Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Time to Think Out of the Box

I became passionate about genealogy through personal experience.  After I started seriously researching my own family history I experienced a sense of connectedness that was profound.  It wasn't important that my ancestors were mostly farmers and peasants.  What was important important is that they belonged to me and I belonged to them.  I haven't been able to let go of my passion for genealogy ever since.

My passion is a bit overflowing and ever since I've wanted other people to experience the same satisfaction that comes from family history and genealogical research as I've experienced.  I wouldn't mind if the whole country became as obsessed with genealogy as they are with football and baseball.

For this reason, I really try to keep close tabs on the pulse of genealogy.  Over the years we've seen a gradual increase in general interest in genealogy with the PBS programs African American Lives and Ancestors.

Last year things started to really heat up with PBS' Faces of America and NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA)  Dare I be so bold as to say that WDYTYA was the tipping point?

WDYTYA represents the first serious attempt to bring genealogy to the people.  And it seems to be working.  Not only is WDYTYA coming back for a second season but now the Disney Channel is getting on board as well.  They will be broadcasting a genealogy program geared toward kids.

So why do I care about all this?

I love the genealogical community - both non-profits and the for profits.  I want to see them thrive.

I started tooting the horn a numbers of years ago (on the APG list) saying that the big genealogy wave is coming.  It's here NOW.

What are you doing about it?

In a previous post (The Holy Grail: New Genealogists) I wrote about the importance of connecting with these new potential genealogists and gave suggestions for how different sectors of the genealogical community could engage them.

Thinking Out of the Box

Now I am tracking examples of groups and organizations that are putting ideas into action.  Those groups that are thinking out of the box to attract new genealogists who are not coming from traditional channels.  I'm pleased to say that I am starting to see it happen.


In yesterday's "The Weekly Genealogist" eNews the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) announced that they are teaming up with the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) to provide genealogy classes in September.   This was a brilliant move of thinking out of the box to attract a new audience.  If you want the attention of the 20- and 30-something crowd in Boston then BCAE is the place to do it.  They regularly hold classes on all sorts of topics including the ever popular wine tasting.  The timing is perfect for adding a genealogy class. Now if NEHGS were really clever they would cross the river and do the same thing with the perhaps even more hip, Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

The Providence, Rhode Island Public Library

In October the Providence Public Library will be holding its first ever First Annual Genealogy Symposium.  For a first time event, they are going all out.  They will be hosting three speakers with the headliner being none other than Megan Smolenyak followed right on her heels by The Photo Detective, Maureen Taylor.  I will disclose that I am the third speaker but honestly that was just luck on my part. They picked me from the Boston Public Library posted schedule.  They didn't know my name beforehand.  While technically holding a genealogy symposium is not "Out of the Box" it does show a non-genealogical organization that is very much in tune with what their audience wants and they are ready to provide it.

Note to genealogical organizations:  Keep your eye on public libraries - they have a great sense of what their patrons want.  Why not be proactive and approach them about a program?

The Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG)

The MSOG Middlesex Chapter is responding to current trends by providing a new "Family Research Day" in addition to their regular Annual Meeting Seminar.  The Family Research Day will be held this Saturday, September 11, 2010.   What is unusual about this program is that beginning genealogy classes are being offered throughout the entire day not just during one track.  That shows a recognition of current trends and initiative to provide a place for new genealogists to gather and learn.

Are you thinking Out of the Box?

Do you have more examples of groups or businesses that are thinking out of the box to engage the latest wave of new genealogists?  If so, send them to me. I'd love to write about them as well.


  1. FamilySearch has been adding FaceBook and Twitter to its means of reaching out. They started newFamilySearch first for members to try and clean up their trees before releasing to the world. IGI gets a bad rap, but the new LDS genealogists recognize much was before training, records being available and family tradition. They are working to clean it up.

  2. I think another tool that is just starting to be utilized (us included) is social media... connecting to other genealogists and trying to spark interest with the online (generally younger) crowd.