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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Simple to Use Computer, Designed Especially for Seniors?

I am getting really tired of patronizing attitudes towards "seniors." Unlike the claim in the recent advertisement cited in the title to this post, I do not need a "simple" computer and I resent the ads that imply that I need one for the reason that I am one.

What has this got to do with genealogy? Well, keep reading, I usually come around to why it does, but in this case the analogy should be rather obvious. Genealogists are being characterized as being old, out-of-touch and computer illiterate. We need to make way for the young, in-touch and computer literate youth of the world. The future of genealogy lies in the thumbs of the youth!!!

Yea, tell me about it. I was recently helping a bonafide youth upload some photos to the Memories website, when we came across the hand written note on the back of one of the photos. As a test, I asked the "youth" to read it to me. He could not. He admitted that he couldn't read the cursive handwriting. Hmm. Maybe, just maybe, genealogy may require a bit more than texting skills.

I do have to admit, it is impressive to watch some of the more advanced university students at the Brigham Young University Family History Library type rapidly and operate the computer with alacrity. But, of course, they are there asking me questions.

Operating a computer in the online world of the Internet is not a simple task. I recently attended a youth activity aimed at familiarizing a very large group of "youth" mostly teenagers, about one or two genealogically related programs. With other adults, I was there to add support to the youth and help them learn the programs. We spent most of our time, helping them find the programs and log onto No matter how much you know about computers, conducting online research and adding in doing that research for genealogically significant records are skills that are needed and go well beyond the skills picked up by using a variety of electronic devices.

My experience in helping a variety of people at all age levels work on genealogy is that very few people, old or young, have all of the skills necessary to conduct genealogical research merely from their background education and life experiences. The biggest disparity in native genealogical research ability is between people who have graduate degrees or at least a university or college degree and everyone else. Another dividing line is between those who have manual dexterity skills to operate a computer. Typing skills and the ability to manipulate a mouse or trackpad are the biggest dividing line.

In both cases, old and young, attitude and a willingness to learn new skills is a predominate factor in learning how to do genealogical research. Here, the popular concept is that if we can motivate the youth, who are assumed to have the computer skills, to do genealogical research, then we can expand the overall involvement in genealogy. I have yet to see this happening on a large scale. There are always exceptions. There are genealogists who trace their interest back to childhood experiences. But the interpersonal interaction that created that interest usually involved intense contact between the generations, that is, today's genealogists were inspired by their parents' or grandparents' involvement in some aspect of family history.

Do I have a solution? Yes, I have several solutions. But my "solutions" are not popular or currently being promoted.

First of all, if our youth are going to become interested in genealogy, they need to have a close relationship with older people and their history. They also need to learn some basic research skills, which they do not generally acquire in our school systems in the United States. They also need a general background in history, particularly the history that pertains to their own ancestors. Again, this is something that is no longer taught in our public schools in the United States. A recent example is that the elimination of history from high school graduation requirements. See "Common Core and the End of History" as an example and you will see that similar actions are being taken in all levels of the U.S. education system.

More importantly, genealogy needs to be recognized as the complex and challenging pursuit it is. We need to recognize that successful genealogical researchers have spent thousands of hours acquiring their skills. We need to cultivate and appreciate those who have both those acquired skills and who have the time and interest to become involved in genealogical research.

Lastly, we need those who are competent genealogists to keep doing what they do best. My own experience is that genealogists as a whole, with a few exceptions, are more than willing to spend their time teaching and sharing their experience and expertise. It is true that some are better than others at interpersonal skills but that brings up another important issue, we need to expand rather than contract or oppose the efforts of the genealogists to teach what they know.

I might also like to stop being patronized as a "senior." On last experience still sticks in my craw. I recently climbed a relatively high mountain near my home. The trail is extremely popular and we passed hundreds of people making the same climb. As people passed me, I was constantly told, "way to go!" and ""good job" as if climbing the mountain was something only the younger climbers could accomplish. Let's not patronize either the youth or our seniors. Don't assume because someone is young they can automatically do genealogical research and likewise do not assume because we are old that we cannot do computers. Remember that some of us old folks are the ones who developed these computers and wrote the programs. Finally, let's recognize that old or young, there are some practical skills that are needed to do adequate genealogical research and that those skills are not necessarily taught in our schools.


  1. Excellent points James. The lack of historical knowledge in our youth is scary. I always get a bit of a surprised look when I tell "younger" folks that I have a blog, a Twitter account, Google + and have had a computer since the DOS days in 1986.

  2. I think this is my favorite post of yours yet. It's not about stereotypes, it's about skill sets.

  3. Enjoyed you thoughts Brother Tanner. I am 75 and a FHC Director with a staff of over 30. My biggest problem is with the staffing, as 95% of our staff are very "senior" and all of us have serious health problems. I have a difficult time getting younger (45 to 65 year olds) the Bishops still believe that Family History is for the "seniors". How can we change this perception with the Bishops and Stake Leaders? Another 10 or 20 years we will be gone and the knowledge and love we have for genealogy will not be shared with the younger generation.

    1. This is a common problem and it doesn't help to have comments about not needing genealogists anymore.