Monday, March 12, 2012

Getting the Whole Family Involved

It seems that in each generation there is one designated person who is the family historian. Other family members are either mildly interested or roll their eyes at any discussion of family history. It doesn't have to be this way. With the advancement of technology it's the perfect time to get the whole family involved.

The problem is that in the past we have equated family history with research. Not everyone in the family is interested in doing family history research. There are now many other ways to get family members involved in collecting family history information without them having to do any research.  The key idea is that we need to draw on each family member's strengths and interests.

For example, this past weekend my brother converted 55 minutes worth of audio files from the 1970s and 1980s. He took the cassette tape originals and converted them into mp3 files which could easily be shared over the internet and played on a computer.  While he was in the process of doing the conversion he sent out five separate teasers. Each teaser contained 2-3 minutes of audio and a very provocative, catchy headline. He sent the teasers to the entire extended family. At the completion of his project he again emailed the entire family with a link to downloadable audio files of the entire 55 minutes (culled down from 5 hours worth).

My brother is not particularly interested in doing genealogical research. Yet what he did provided a incredible service to me (the family researcher) and the rest of the family. Harnessing his love of computers and technological skill provided us with a way to preserve our family memories for many generations to come. Quite a number of the people whose voices are heard on those audio files are no longer with us today. What a treasure it is to hear their voices again and to know that we will be able to pass them along. By distributing the audio files with the rest of the family, it will also encourage more of our family to get interested in learning about our shared family history.

When trying to get family members to participate in family history think of ways to harness their interests and passions.

Here are some non-research ideas to get the rest of the family involved:
  • Encourage your family to scrapbook - either using paper and albums or electronically
  • Have the music lover compile songs of the past or a disc of family favorites
  • Convert analog video to digital
  • Convert analog audio to digital
  • Have the tech lover create a photo slide show and set it to music
  • Have the kids interview grandpa using a digital recorder

When you think about it there are lots of ways to get your family involved in family history without having them do research. Remember, once you get your family involved be sure to share the end product with as much of the extended family as possible. Nothing breeds excitement and participation like sharing and getting others involved.


  1. Ask your brother which software he used to do the conversion. This was a timely post because I am attempting to get comments from 19 grandchildren to put in a blog post. There is more than a 30 year difference in ages between the oldest and youngest grandchild, so our memories are totally different. I the case of the youngest, our grandmother died six weeks after he was born. I've already had some great feedback but wonder how hard it is going to be to get a memory from all of them.

  2. I'd love to know how your brother did that! - I have some treasured cassette recordings I'd love to convert before the tape wears out and my remaining cassette players break.

  3. Fascinating post, Marian - I love the idea! My mind is now pondering the possibilities.....

  4. Whenever I read one of you blog posts I bubble in jealousy. You had a genealogist in your family before you. You have heirlooms. You have audio tapes of conversations from the 1970s. My family is nothing like yours. I am the first and only. No one thought of ever doing this and there are no such things as audiotapes of conversations. There are no portraits of ancestors. I'm lucky to have rescued some old photographs. And my family still rolls its collective eyes at the mention of genealogy. So no--our two families are from different planets in different galaxies.

  5. Great post. In the past, my brother-in-law converted our 8mm movies into VCR tapes. We're now in the need to convert these to dvd. Perhaps I can list him again to keep up with the technology.

    Regards, Jim