Redefine Family History Goals for Youth

Having recently been part of the ‘youth’ in genealogy and having a child of my own entering this group, I am often frustrated with family history challenges presented to youth.

My daughter keeps hearing messages that she should work on finding and adding names to her tree. Well, that’s a fine goal in the abstract. There’s one small problem. I’ve been doing research on my line for 20 years. I’m a curious cat and have gone in many different directions. My husband and his family have done a lot of work on their lines.
Finding a name isn’t especially easy for her, because it isn’t especially easy for my husband or I. The push to add names to the tree is lost on her. It’s not hopeless, but unless a miracle tears down many brick walls, this isn’t a task that will be achievable in the time frame of these challenges. (By the way, there are four more kiddos in my family who will be encouraged to add a name to the tree in the coming years.)

Question: Do I stop my research so that my children can find names that I would find over the course of the next years? What if I stop doing my research to help them find what I would have found but we wind up not finding what I would have found because we waited too long? 

What would be a better goal for a young person?
Perhaps it would be to investigate what has been done in their family. Every family is different. Some will have huge stacks of books for the family. Some will have a handful of photos and nothing else. Each young person should learn what has been done in their family and get to know who actively does research in their family.
Then set goals that would fit the needs of their family. Ah… but we can’t set big, impressive goals when we focus on the individual needs of the families. You’re right. You can’t. But you can turn these young people to their heritage by connecting them with what has been done and the people who have done something.
If a youth should discover a lot of research has been done, encourage them to transform the research into presentations that are more appealing than names, dates, and places on a chart or in a thick book. Let their creativity drive them. Support them with resources to make their visions come to life and give them a place to present their results. That will certainly do more for those whose trees go back to the 16th century.
If a youth has some research done but limited stories about their ancestors, have them capture and preserve their family’s stories. Stories connect the generations and there is much a young person can do to save the memories that are within their living relatives.
If a youth is ‘fortunate’ to be starting from scratch, teach them how to build their tree but capture and preserve the history that their living relatives know at the same time. Then they’ll have stories to go with the names, dates, and places they put on their charts.
Above all, inspire youth to capture and preserve the history their family is making today. Imagine what we’ll have available to use 10 years from now if the youth are preserving the family stories of today. My daughter has been recording her personal history by doing her own yearly scrapbook. She has 90% control of the outcome of her book (I edit it for grammar and spelling and format it for printing). She and my other children regularly contribute to our family’s year-in-review blog book that I’ve mentioned before. We do offset these activities by indexing and poking around on the tree. But her main contribution is preserving the memories we make today so that we have it available in the future.
I’m not discounting the value of finding names or indexing records. These are great goals. Too often extreme goals are set to measure the participation of youth in these activities without thought as to what is achievable in the individual families. Instead of setting arbitrary goals, let us work to turn the individual hearts of young people to their families. Perhaps then, we’ll have more youth finding their own place in the work, like my own daughter.

8 thoughts on “Redefine Family History Goals for Youth

  1. Thanks Karen… connecting to history is great. I also love how family history can teach us about overcoming challenges, forgiveness, and many personal issues as well. There is so much to be learned through our family history.

  2. I think your ideas about getting kids involved in family history research, Devon. You've said before that it's important to impart that there is more to genealogy and family history than names and dates. What I think I love most about genealogy is how it connects us to history, how it makes it real.

  3. Great post! I love hearing folks think through these things. I can relate to the challenges you're expressing. As a member of staff at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, members of the Quorum of the Seventy, temple presidents and their wives, etc. come in looking for a family name to take to the temple. It sounds like it would be impossible most of them being descendants of pioneer stock. What we've done is to encourage them to change their focus from finding "ancestors" to finding "cousins." We start with the father or grandfather of the LDS convert and trace all of his descendants down to the year 1904 and amazingly, we usually find at least one person whose work hasn't been done. Keep up the good work!

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