Everybody’s heard of the primary demographic for genealogists. From what I’ve read, the majority of the population is retired, females over the age of 50 or so. Which makes a lot of sense. If you’re retired, you have more time to do research and later stages of life tend to provoke interest in our roots and lastly, women are naturally inclined to focus more on relationships than men.
However, it seems there’s a large interest in getting young folks interested in genealogy. Perhaps I’m bias because I am a young genealogist and therefore am connected to and more aware of communities and projects for young family historians, like young and saavy genealogists or zap the grandma gap site. However, I do have some evidence to support my hypothesis. My statistic counter on this blog shows a huge preference for one particular post titled, “the young genealogist“. So, you asked for it.
*note – young people seem to have a negative reaction to the word genealogy so I’ll be using the words family history
So, what’s available to get young people interested in Family History?
Firstly, thanks to Lisa Louise Cooke’s recent podcast which featured Janet Hovorka of Zap the Grandma Gap! Janet has put together activity books for children to get them interested in Family History. In the podcast she talks about an age ‘sweet spot’ – an age level for kids to truly participate and appreciate the activity books.
Lorine McGinnis Schulze from Olive Tree Genealogy has lots of great ideas to get kids involved in family history. Many of these ideas are also crafty – nice projects to pour your creativity into and share with the family.
Of course for slightly older youth – say pre-teens to young adults and older – there is technology. It can be as simple as putting a black & white image of an ancestor onto an ipad coloring app. Or perhaps develop a kind of ‘whodunit’ mystery game involving records & dates.
The key is knowing your audience & being creative.
Know your audience: Not just their age and developmental ability, but also their interests & attention span.
If the 7 year-old in your family is often energetic or more interested in video games, you need to adapt some activity to meet that. If that child is feeling ‘forced’ into a project that feels like homework they are not likely to stay interested for very long. Use their energy by playfully creating a ‘battlefield’ game – like ‘tag’ or ‘capture the flag’ except with the union side and the confederate side. Incorporate ancestors as characters if you can – and let them know they are related to that person! Use their interest in video games by getting those ancestors onto screens. Generally I’m not a big fan of too much screen-time but if they encounter their ancestors on a daily basis they may just develop some curiosity about who they’re looking at.
Be creative: find ways to engage the audience utilizing their natural interests. They don’t need to know everything about their ancestor, just sprinkle a little on the top of a game or throughout their day. Before trick-or-treating you can remind them that census takers would go house-to-house to collect information, which included their grandparents!
Is there an appropriate age for a child to begin interest in Family History?
Nope! There is none! 0-120! The general guideline is that the activity must fit the child’s developmental level. For example, you can learn and develop the wonderful art of storytelling and begin telling your child their family story while they’re in the womb!
Storytelling is most definitely an art and another area of family history that is gaining interest and popularity. The Rootstech conference coming up in February in Salt Lake City boasts 48 sessions with the keyword “story”. Many are geared towards developing the story and storytelling techniques to engage audiences.
In short, match the family history activity to the child’s interests.
Are they showing interest now? Challenge them with a project related to family history. Can they write a story from an ancestor’s perspective? Put together a slideshow to honor a grandparent? Complete a family tree puzzle? Be sure to reward them with lots of praise and interest. Fill them up with confidence and love!
What activities have you had success with? Have ideas but not sure how to implement them? Let me know by commenting below!