Reclaimed Ancestors

Incubating New Genealogists

All too often, we teach the way we were taught.

Experienced family historians may be comfortable in the book mite air of a society’s archive. We know halogroup communities aren’t video gaming clubs. In time, we can distinguish a “s” from “f” in colonial handwriting. 

For genealogists born in the 1970s or earlier, we had school days scouring books in the library.  We knew how to transcribe information rather than click-copy-paste. Maybe we used microfiche and annotated bibliographies in college. Today, those research skills are put to our good use as 85% of the world’s genealogical records are still not online.

But we’re leaving some adult learners behind.  Today’s young adult does 90% of their pleasure reading online. Tech-savvy graduates navigate the internet easily and presume, if they have an interest in genealogy, that they can find what they need there. It can seem like such an uncool hassle to actually go to the Cleburne County Historical Society.

To further the genealogy legacy, we, the distinguished, older crew, must connect younger family historians to these opportunities.  Not on a Power Point, not in a blog, but by holding events in these archival spaces. Will they even show up?  Sure, if we’re willing to chip in some money and imagination to make it an enjoyable event.  Younger generations have been raised to believe everything they need can be found on the internet. We know better but that means we must do better as well.

I’m going to suggest something that will make fellow preservationists break out in hives. Offer food and drinks, even spirited ones.  Make your event one that looks like it has party potential.  Street tacos, a local craft beer, encourage people to bring a date. Feed them, chat them up, hand out the wet wipes and then wow them with some glorious finds in the archives.

We can also go to them.  Youthful adults like their street fairs and beer gardens. Host a booth there.  Place your recruitment materials in young adult faith communities, colleges and coffee houses. Ask the 30 & under publications and podcasts in your state to do a story on your organization. The truth is, we’ve got a bit of a reputation to overcome as stuffy and boring.  It’s just a damn shame people don’t know how cool we are!

One thing that has always stuck with me since my graduate days in adult education is that adult students learn by doing, not absorbing.  I learned how to manage a mortgage once I had one.  I came to understand the Plymouth Colony court system when I had to deconstruct all seven volumes that came from that era. Adult students need to connect the resource to their lives.  Here, this would be their interest in genealogy. We make it worth their while by showing them documents and images they cannot Google. We do it be being creative and acknowledging the generations after us are wired differently as learners.

We can be an intimidating crowd.  Some of us are cantankerous and territorial. I’m sure I’m not describing you but certainly a fellow genealogist you know. We’ve got to be more welcoming, more flexible in our programming and more willing to learn about the habits of living people, not just the dead ones.

Seeking Storyteller: Ruth Story Sterling

Born 1901 in the Oklahoma Territory, Ruth arrived with smallpox and was immediately kidnapped by her birth attendant.  That story ended well and Ruth went on to lead an incredible life which she chronicled in Survival: The Story of My Life.  She was fascinating, tough and incredibly resourceful. 

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Personal, Profession and Passion Collide

Family history is not my day job. It doesn’t feed my five, ravenous, teenagers, doesn’t provide health insurance or a retirement plan.  But family history has been my passion since I was a teen and my 2x great aunt, Dott Zue Carrier, gave me a copy of a genealogy she had commissioned.


Aunt Dott was never one to let facts besmear our family tree. Hence, the copy I received had names blacked out as if this was some sort of redacted FBI document.  Who got axed from the family tree? The first I uncovered was Martha Allen Carrier, sent to the Salem gallows by the accusation of witchcraft. 

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