BSO #1 – AFFHO Congress2015 – Day 2 – Part 1

© Family Fractals, 2015. All rights reserved.

Day Two was thought-provoking and kept me on my toes hopping from session to session. I was pretty knackered by the end of the day. With so many notes, I had no choice but to split this post into two parts. The party of the first part has the post all to themselves…

Morning Keynote: Connecting Across Past, Present, and Future – D. Joshua Taylor

Josh is the President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Data Strategy Manager (US and Canada) for findmypast.

Josh told us some fun stories about how he became a genealogist. Josh’s grandmother cunningly started his love of family history research by asking his help to solve a mystery. And that was that. Josh told amusing stories of summer holidays spent with his grandparents on road trips across the US, stopping at every cemetery along the way. Every town in which they stopped, his grandmother bought him a membership to the local family history society and, if they offered a life membership, she bought that as well because who knew what value a twelve-year-old could get from a life membership?

Some of the sage advice his grandmother passed on to him were:

  • There is always another way
  • Cite your sources
  • Family history societies (FHS) are an incredible resource
  • You will never find everything – it is OK to get discouraged and not fill every date

I love that last point. There will inevitably be gaps in your research. A birth won’t be registered. A father will be travelling on census night. A parish register has damaged pages. The genealogy goblins spirited away all trace of your great-great-grandfather after 1883. Hey, it could happen!

But that is OK. It is not the end of the world. Though it might feel like the end of your world. There are plenty of other relatives in the tree waiting patiently for your attention.


The second half of Josh’s talk naturally followed on to how family history societies can better connect with the next generation of genealogists. A lot of people bemoan that people new to this hobby (and remember for most people, this is just an occasional hobby interest), are more interested in the little wiggling green leaf than a thoroughly researched and documented family history.

Some of this is due to newcomers just not being aware of things like the Genealogical Proof Standard or correctly citing sources and just wanting to have some fun. It is usually only after some time when people really start taking a deep interest that they stumble across this arcane and esoteric world of meticulous research.

One of the issues Josh points out is that FHS often do not engage with this target audience very well, if at all. This next generation of genealogists, and therefore new source of FHS members, usually communicates and connects via social media on the Internet. However, a significant portion of FHS don’t even have a website and do not feel it is even necessary to have one.

Josh gives an example of how FMP tried a new way to engage with this audience by developing a kind of “create your own WDYTYA story” website where people could upload pictures of their family members and make a video of their personal family story to share with family and friends. It obviously lacked citations and sources and so on but it was fun and very engaging with certain members of their target audience.

FMP did some analysis and found that 40% of visits originated from mobile devices – much higher than visitors to their other sites. They had positive responses from the 25-55 age group but 65+ did not like the site at all. Examples of typical feedback were:

Age Group Platform Comment
25-35 Mobile I love this…so cool!
65+ Desktop What on earth have you done? I don’t like this!

You get the idea there is a real disconnect between the generations about how to use technology to document and communicate, which is not exactly a surprise. However, Josh points out what we have in common is that we are “all looking for some kind of connection to the past” and this is a good basis on which to build better foundations to communicate and connect.

While Josh’s talk was focused on how FHS can better communicate with the next generation of genealogists, it also really made me think of how I can better relate to younger members of my own family. Pedigree charts and well-documented proof arguments are hardly going to float their boat so I need to find some other kind of format that will fire their imagination about their own family history.

One idea I had for the littlies in the family was to make a little children’s story about a family member – maybe about their trip to Australia or life on the farm for new settlers or mining on the goldfields. I saw an example at an exhibitor’s table at Congress 2015 which showed a little children’s storybook that some grandparent’s had created, personalised for their grandkids by mentioning their names and other details.

I think it would be fun to take this a step further and make the story about one of their more interesting ancestors…though perhaps avoiding the more naughty of the black sheep until they are a little older! Maybe make it the ancestor telling their story directly to the child? The technically gifted could perhaps turn it into a multimedia experience but that is a bit too much for me!

Finally, “The past is full of adventure,” says Josh and I can’t think of a better reason to spend our time discovering our family stories – together.

If anyone has any ideas on how to better engage with the junior branches of their families, please feel free to share them!

Part 2 will be following…

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