RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Youth and Technology -- A Genealogical Myth

There is a persistent genealogical myth that equates youth with genealogical interest and competency simply because of familiarity with technology. Becoming a competent genealogist involves much more than simply knowing how to turn on a computer and operate a mouse. This myth seems to arise in conjunction with another myth that old people per se, do not know how to use computers.

My personal experience belies both of these views. I have been working with people of all ages and I find that computer competency and incompetency can be found at any age. I have written on this subject several times, but I keep hearing prominent speakers conclude that the salvation of genealogy lies with the youth simply because they are more acquainted with technology than the old folks who are essentially beyond help and even beyond consideration.

There are probably quite few reasons why older people become interested in genealogy at a much higher rate than other age groups. There are, of course, a lot of genealogy related activities, such as Indexing, posting photos, gathering stories, etc., that young people will find challenging and interesting. Whether we consider genealogy an academic subject, an avocation, or merely a hobby, discovering one's ancestors involves a complex mixture of a variety of skills. Most of these skills take a considerable time to acquire and are not usually present in teenagers. These skills include researching, analysis, interviewing and many more.

In looking back over my own experience in becoming involved in genealogy, I can see several crucial stages in my learning. I have mentioned in previous posts that I had almost no contact with anyone else interested in my family's history or even in genealogy in general for many, many years. Until I took the U.S. Research courses from Brigham Young University over a five year period, I was really not particularly aware of a lot of issues, even though I was familiar with many of the basic reference books and materials. So, my own development in genealogy went through stages.

The first stage was clearly the survey stage. I spent years determining what had and had not been done in my family. Of course, I did not have a convenient online family tree to consult. My survey consisted on weeks on end spent in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah searching through the Patron File of submitted Family Group Records. I quickly discovered two important facts; there was a great deal of misinformation and confusion in the records and many of the pedigrees were simply false.

After more than 15 years of gathering records and entering a summary of those records into various primitive computer programs, I realized that I knew very little about what I was doing. This is when I determined to take the BYU courses. That was an intense experience. Some of those courses were more difficult than any I had in graduate school or in law school. During this time, you might be interested to know, I was helping to raise my seven lovely children and practicing law full time and involved in church activities.

I continued to acquire and read a huge number of books on genealogy and finally, began attending conferences.

Now, after I have gone through all of that and still realize how little I really know and how much more there is to know, you just might begin to understand why I think it is a little bit presumptuous to think that a teenager will have either the time or motivation to learn how to do genealogy. I certainly acknowledge that there is a place and a time for them to begin, but to assume that anyone, old or young, can acquire a working knowledge of genealogy by simply sitting down at a computer and watching a couple of motivational videos is sheer nonsense.

Can they help? Yes. Can they contribute? Yes. Can they learn how to begin and start into the process? Yes, of course. Now, there are always exceptions. I never learned how to play the piano, except to pick out a tune. Some of my grandchildren have learned to play the piano at a competition level. But this involves taking lessons and practicing nearly every day, day after day, for years. Why do we think that anyone, young or old, can acquire the complex skills necessary to "do genealogy" without spending the same type of effort and time? I can't help but believe that all those who think there is some kind of short cut to genealogical competency have never done any research themselves. Over and over again, I have had patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library say they had no idea how complicated genealogy was or could be.

If we are serious about involving the "youth" in genealogy, let's get serious about providing them with the opportunity to do more than watch a few motivational videos. How about serious classes and training? How about a consistent curriculum for training. I have been teaching classes now for more than six years at the Mesa FamilySearch Library and except for "youth groups," I have had almost no one come to my classes who could be described as a youth. We need to think seriously about the transition from picking names out of online family trees and doing serious genealogical research.

Meanwhile, let's stop pretending that doing genealogy is like a trip to an amusement park.

21 comments:

  1. I think in addition to the skills, young people mostly lack the perspective to make genealogy interesting to them. That is, all of the people they know are still (at least mostly) alive, always have been and, in their experience, will be forever. Thus, just having technology skills doesn't begin to give them interest in genealogy. From what I've seen, most young people who are interested in genealogy have had life experiences that cause them to value family connections, such as loss of close family members, or adoption.

    In my experience, even in my mid-40's, I'm almost always the youngest, or nearly so, in the room at any genealogical or reunion event I attend. I have an interest in history in general, which I believe is one factor interesting me in genealogy. My paternal grandmother must have seen something in me that caused her to get me started and encourage me. Most young people don't have that push, so why would we expect them to just become interested in genealogy?

    Genealogy is a hobby/avocation largely for people who have lived long enough to have figured out why it's important.

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    1. Well, I am quite a ways past being the youngest at anything, but I agree that people usually have to live a while before they see the value of genealogy.

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  2. Thank you for these comments. I have been frustrated by the same attitude. It just isn't as easy as the canned demonstrations would lead us to believe it is.

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  3. And, while there is an ever growing availability to free online resources and documents; generally, youth (teenagers) do not have the financial resources to, as they will at some point have to, research online or otherwise.

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    1. The challenge here is even if the teenager is interested, hie parents may not be and may not appreciate the need to support the teenager in having the proper tools to do the work.

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  4. I agree with you re computer competency. One thing that makes my blood boil is the assumption that because I'm white haired, I know nothing about computers. I've worked with computers since 1980. Just because I choose not to participate in Facebook or Twitter is because I have enough on my plate to fully understand what I'm doing with my computers to take on something new. I would prefer to do well what I choose to do, not to spread myself and not do any of it well. Apologies for getting this off my chest

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    1. I agree. I get the same treatment grey hair and all.

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  5. I think it stems from the fact the correct order of things has broken down. Imagine...sitting at the knee of the wise old grandfather gleaning memories from his past. Daniel was correct that youth lack perspective. But with the breakdown of the family—what are they to do?

    I heard the world's knowledge doubles every 18 months and some say it actually is doubling every 12 hours! What is the older generation to do, but be resentful that the younger generation thinks they are fuddle-duddies. The technology is flowing like a fire hydrant; faster than anyone (including youth) is willing to catch-up with. It used to be where the older generation shared their knowledge and learning with the younger generation, but now this even-playing-field mentality is corrupting the (what I believe) should be the correct way things are done.

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    1. Nice thought, but no one has ever sat at my knees for anything approaching memories from the past.

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    2. The real irony is I just turned 34 and I'm the one blowing the doors wide open on my family history, and sharing it with people twice my age. I've accepted the fact the through my talents and God's help I was able to find people that would not have been found. Although I don't want to feel like a weirdo for doing so—and resent when the older set slights my efforts when they should be the ones sharing their past with me (or so it seems).

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    3. Well, I started when I was 32 or so and had the same or similar experience with my relatives except some were outright antagonistic.

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  6. I think it is true that the youth are able to figure out the technology more easily than many older people, but what happens is that they don't understand the research side of things. My brother-in-law is only 14-years-old and without any real instruction was able to add his parents and grandparents, connect himself to other existing lines on familysearch, and then click around to find out how he is related to Charlemagne and Adam. He also knows that he should be searching for the "green arrows" so he can do temple work. But when it comes to actually doing research to find the information that is missing, he gets frustrated when it isn't just shown to him immediately.

    But it isn't just the youth that have this problem either. Last week, a 45-year-old woman in my ward was wanting to work on her family history and so I offered my assistance. She logged in and saw that she had already entered all of the info for her direct line, so we started looking for some census records to find possible cousins. When the list of search results came up, she had no idea how to determine which one on the list was her ancestor. For each one, I had to explain "this isn't him because the parents' names are completely different" or "this can't be him because this is a female". It was a very frustrating experience because, for me, it just makes sense to look for people with the matching criteria and evaluate all of the info shown, but she just didn't get it.

    I guess this goes back to your previous post about how genealogy isn't easy. Learning the technology is the easy part though. The hard part is learning how to think critically.

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    1. Believe me the technology is anything but easy. Both genealogy and the technology are very simple until you actually try to do something difficult. Then you find out how complex they really are.

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  7. While it has been my concern since the push to involve youth in family history began that meaningful training be provided for them, I do find that youth are certainly quicker at the computer than most of us who are older (there are exceptions, of course). Even though I enrolled in computer training classes and began transferring my family history records into the PAF program before they were born, my young adult grandchildren are much faster than me at the computer and have a better understanding of how a computer works. The ones interested in learning how to add sources and Memories items picked up the procedures much faster than most people that I help.

    If figures I read recently as to the substantial majority of LDS members who do not have data on their parents and grandparents entered as yet into Family Tree (this survey probably did not include information on parents of living LDS members listed in their membership records), perhaps the youth can play a significant role in finding information from home sources and local record repositories to be able enter information about their first few generations of ancestors without having had much training. This may lead them to have the desire to obtain a more meaningful training in order to research further.

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    1. The real question is whether or not this is actually possible in any given family. I have adult children and a few have been involved in genealogically related activities, but I have yet to see any significant involvement on the grandchild level. It will take a lot of time and effort to change that.

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  8. There is definitely a place for our youth in furthering the work and progress with their family history. As with any other activity that involves the internet and youth there needs to be supervision. Supervision by someone who is skilled at researching and entering information into their tree on Family Search. Too many people are just interested in finding someone to do ordinance work for that they often don't take the steps to prove that the individual is part of the family they enter them into. My concern is that the duplication problem that exists in Family Search will continue if there aren't competent people entering and making changes to the data that already exists. Genealogy is serious stuff not to be trifled with. It isn't something to be taken lightly or without proper instruction. We need to educate people and instill a proper view of the seriousness of entering information into Family Search.

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    1. If the parents are not interested and do not support the youth activity, how will it happen? I have been in Scouting for years and boys almost never obtain their Eagle Scout badge without a huge amount of support from their family and Scout Leaders. Who are the equivalent leaders for the youth in genealogy?

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    2. It all goes back to the traditional game of musical chairs, know all over the world; namely, teaching from primary ages to adults, that in the end, the ultimate and only "seat" of authority for the family is the Father of us all, as noted in the life and example of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, Jewish circumcision ceremonies have a chair set aside for the use of the prophet Elijah. Passover Seder includes "opening the door for Elijah" which expresses trust in the protection of an almighty, caring, heavenly father (G-d). I suggest, in a family setting, celebrate the arrival of Elijah every April 3rd, in the Kirtland, Ohio temple. Promote the month of April as worldwide family history month. Include annual youth "Hill Cumorah" style pageants near every temple ground on the globe, promoting family history, as well as the birth of Christ and the restoration of His Church (April 6th), on a global basis. Integrate this with all media outlet connections, through movies, Internet, or other audio and visual recordings, within campus facilities related to Brigham Young University, other institutes of religion, seminaries, and other supporting organizations. Create Elijah presentations of the quality in the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Produce teen video games for international distribution, that truly reflect the life and times of a former prophet, holding the sealing keys of the priesthood, whose activities exceed those of current fictional super heroes; a true "superman". Coordinate theses activities by the perpetual establishment of the "Chair of Elijah" at BYU, reserved rightfully for worthy patriarchal descendants of the martyr Hyrum Smith. Teach the Bible from the standpoint of a living record, containing memories of our real fathers, mothers and distant relatives; soon to be reconnected together again with us, genealogically studied and evaluated by Joseph Smith, Jr., and other early church leaders, as so carefully noted in the lectures on faith.
      Present a Book of Remembrance entry, by the local church congregation, to every family at the time they have a new member baptized or have any children blessed.

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  9. Let's stop pretending you have to be an expert on genealogy in order to start genealogy. Talking about the limitations young people have in relation to genealogy is often just describing how inexperienced the youth are when they start their family history. Of course they are inexperienced! You took more than 15 years basically figuring things out on your own before you realized you needed to take some classes. You needed that experience to seek out serious instruction. If someone had come in and tried to tell me everything they knew about genealogy before I even started, I would have quit.
    There is no teacher like experience. How are youth supposed to learn and be involved if no one will trust them? Many youth (and older people) learn by doing. If they make mistakes, that's too bad, but they certainly won't be the first ones to make mistakes when it comes to genealogy. Many of the family group records you found however many years ago were confused and incorrect.
    I honestly believe that youth do have the time and the desire to do genealogy. I did when I was a youth and the youth in my ward do. They lack the confidence to figure it out for themselves because nobody wants to let them. Everyone is too scared that these youth will mess up their family tree or submit a duplicate ordinance. So what? It happens all the time. If those mistakes are what it takes for the youth to feel the Spirit of Elijah and partake in the blessings of doing family history work, it is a small price to pay.
    If you really want to teach the youth about family history you have to let them figure it out on their own. Don't tell them about how complicated it is. They'll figure that out for themselves. Stop teaching them how to use websites. It's boring for them. They will lose interest. The only way to help maintain an interest in genealogy in a youth (or any beginner) is to give them control and provide support when they ask for it.
    That came out a little more negative than I meant it. I only mean to respectfully express my opinion.

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    1. Thanks for your insight. I think my point was that being able to text and play computer games is not really a preparation for doing genealogy. Technological ability is only one of the skills necessary.

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