20 March 2013

Getting More Genealogists--Maybe It Shouldn't Be Our Focus

There's always discussion of how to "get more people interested in genealogy," "how to get our youth more interested in their past," "what can we do to shove genealogy down other people's throats," etc.  That's all fine, but I'm not certain it is the most effective way to direct our resources and our time. Every hobby or avocation thinks the world would be a much better place if everyone participated--genealogists are no different.  The majority of people who "become interested" in genealogy often do so for personal reasons that are, to be quite frank, personal. We cannot force people to become interested in something in which they are not.

There are people "out there" who dabble in their family history and have more than a fifteen second passing interest. Those are the people that we need to reach--especially when they reach out to us for help. Initially they will not cite their sources, they will copy information without analysis, and they will make mistakes. So did the rest of us. Gently guiding new researchers away from these practices will enhance their research experience.

Helping those new to genealogy research learn:
  • effective research strategies
  • sound methodology
  • accurate interpretation of source materials
  • construction of soundly drawn genealogical conclusions
are ways we can "grow" our hobby. And sharing those skills with others helps all of us become better researchers.

People with an interest in family history frequently become frustrated  and quit. Helping those people to continue with their research is a more reachable goal. Life experiences tends to propel some people to become interested in their family history.  It is difficult for the genealogical community to force those motivating experiences upon others. Instead of recruiting new members to the fold, we should  try and to bring in those who are on the periphery into our fold and retain them.

I don't have numbers to back me up, but I have worked in education long enough to know that it is difficult to get people to work at anything when they are not motivated. I also  know that a person who is balancing life, work, and family probably does not have too much time to devote to researching their ancestors no matter how much we try and convince them that they should.

Producing readable, enlightening, and engaging genealogical instruction that is methodologically sound also goes a long way to converting people to our fold.

Until the horse wants to drink, you can pour the water over its head and its mouth will remain shut. 

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