[Editor’s Note: In this guest post, Paul Brooks, a co-founder of Twile – an amazing new site that helps you create a family history timeline with photos and milestones – offers his tips on involving family members to help preserve your genealogy legacy.]
How can you make sure that your genealogy research is preserved and continued by future generations? The solution might be to get your wider family involved now, rather than simply making sure it’s passed down to them after you’re gone.
Surprising Genealogy Survey Results
A few months ago, Twile carried out a survey of 200 people who actively research their family history. We were interested in finding out why they were doing it and what they were planning to do with their findings when the work was ‘finished’.
Most said they had started their research looking for an answer to a specific question (e.g. who was my grandfather, where did my ancestors originate from) or it was triggered by an event (typically the death of a loved one).
What we found most interesting was that very few had given any consideration to what would happen to their research when they were no longer around.
I recently read After You’re Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research by Thomas MacEntee, which outlines a set of actions you can take now to ensure your family will inherit, understand and know what to do with your research. It’s a good book and serves as a useful checklist of things to consider, but there is an assumption that the genealogist is working in isolation, with nobody else in the family involved – and our research indicates this is often the case. Almost 75% of the family historians we surveyed received little or no contributions from the rest of their family and less than half shared their findings regularly. Many of them seemed to view it as a one-person hobby or didn’t feel that anyone else in the family was interested.
When pushed, most of our respondents said they would pass their findings down to their children, though few gave any indication of how they would do that. Perhaps the best way of ensuring your research will survive is to ensure it is continued – making sure that others in your family are actively contributing and sharing alongside you now, so they’re likely to keep it up after you’re gone?
Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s widely known that genealogy is typically a hobby for the older generations (though it is growing in popularity among younger Millennials) and a lot of findings are difficult for the wider family to consume (cryptic documents, citations, black-and-white photos of people they don’t recognize). You can probably secure their attention for a short while by talking them through the family tree, but how do you get them actively involved in recording your family history? Here are a few of my suggestions:
Find Your Allies
Working on the assumption that each family has a family historian, there should be one in each of the individual families that make up your extended family – if your children or your siblings are married, does anyone in their partners’ families share your hobby? You may find they’re exploring the same family lines you are. And you may find they’re as keen as you to get the rest of the family involved.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If most genealogists are 55 or older, then a percentage of under-55s in your family are going to become genealogists one day. You could probably get some of them interested now just by asking them. Ask if they’d be interested in looking through your research and then see if they’d like to learn how it’s done – you may find yourself with an apprentice!
You’ll probably find that most people in your family don’t actually know that genealogy is your hobby. Could you share your online tree with them by email or produce a paper copy that could be duplicated and shared out? Tell them your most interesting findings. If there are any budding genealogists in your family, make sure they know you’re the person to talk to.
Win Over the Young
If you can spark an interest in the younger generations now, there’s a chance it will evolve into a hobby – or at least an appreciation of those who came before. But you aren’t going to win over a 10-year-old with watertight citations or stories of surprising relationships – you’ll need to bring out the stories of war, executions, crazy careers and exotic foreign lands. If you can link your grandchildren to the Vikings or African tribes, you’re onto a winner. Make it a tradition to tell them a new story about their family history each time you see them.
Join Old With New
New family history is created every day. Every birth, wedding, first day of school, graduation, driving test, retirement and family barbecue adds something to your family’s story. If you can get your family to record their more recent events alongside your historical ones, you will have a living, breathing and ever-growing record of your family life – which is more likely to survive after you and is much easier for your family to consume and relate to.
We created Twile for this purpose and I use it to maintain a single timeline of my family’s past, present and future. I have three generations of my family regularly exploring and contributing to the timeline and I’m very confident that my children will add to it as they grow older.
I’ve found family historians to be incredibly passionate about their hobby, partly because they enjoy the research and partly because they have a genuine desire to preserve the memories of their ancestors. I think it’s a sad loss when the work they’ve done is not passed on effectively to their descendants and I hope that more can be preserved by getting the wider family interested and involved.
©2015, copyright Paul Brooks. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Paul Brooks is co-founder of Twile, an online genealogy tool aiming to make family history more exciting and engaging for the wider family, especially the younger generation.