If I had to sum up the sessions that I’ve attended so far here at the Federation of Genealogical Societies 2011 Conference, it would be that it is imperative for today’s societies to meet their potential members where they are. Be relevant to them. If the younger generations are using today’s technology to communicate, then societies need to communicate with them using that same technology.
From Curt Witcher’s session on fundraising to D. Joshua Taylor’s session on Engaging 21sters to Lisa Alzo’s session on Immigrant Cluster Communities to Debra Mieszala’s session on The Curious Case of the Disappearing Dude [Captures your attention, doesn’t it?], one theme was apparent. It’s all about the story. We may have those in our families who are family group sheet "filler-outers", but most people want the story. That is what is captivating. Yes, as I mentioned in my blog post The Situation of Genealogy and Family History, the details are important and what we, as genealogists, love, but the story is what gets them in the door ~ literally and figuratively.
Is today’s younger generation studying the aspects of the inter-relations of those peoples indigenous to the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey?
Are they anxiously sitting on the edge of their seats to see what happens next in the day-to-day activities of the descendants of the Acadians who settled in Atchafalaya River Basin in Louisiana and their obsession with collecting crocodilians?
Do they analyze every week the relationship between a rescuer of aged underwater timber and his co-workers?
Every week, do they analyze the physics of a semi-trailer truck trekking across temporary roads made of ice?
No. To all of the above.
They’re watching Jersey Shore to see The Situation lift up his shirt to show off his six pack. In public. Again. Then doing a fist pump. Again.
They’re tuning into Ax Men because they just love Swamp Man Logging, a.k.a., Shelby Stanga, and they were literally on the edge of their seats watching the episode where Shelby was really sweating it out when he couldn’t find any more logs to get enough money to take his faithful and loyal dog, Willy, to the vet when Willy was so very sick. And you could really tell how torn up about it Shelby was.
They’re watching Swamp People and wondering how, on God’s green earth, the Landry brothers can pull those 12-foot ‘gators into those small (And I mean small.) boats without turning their boats over and becoming ‘gator bait themselves.
They're watching Ice Road Truckers to see if those crazy truckers [They have to be crazy. No one sane would do what they do.] who haul freight across temporary ice roads in the dead of winter will plunge into the frigid waters of those lakes this week. And? How the heck do they get that underwater & under ice view of the trucks crossing up above. [Seriously. How do they do that? I’d hate to be the diver who has to set *that* camera up.]
Whether a person is being asked to join a genealogical society, whether a person or group is being asked to donate to a genealogical society’s project, or whether a person is being asked by their own family historian to contribute information or time to their family’s history, they’re all looking for one thing. A story. They probably just don’t realize it. Something that catches their eye. Something that makes them laugh. Something that makes them cry. Something that makes them shake their head and say, “Are you kidding me?”
And we, as genealogists, can give that to them. We can give them the stories that catch their eyes, that make them laugh, that make them cry, and make them shake their heads. [Sometimes all at the same time.]
So, why aren’t we doing it?
Better late than never. Here’s my non-fantasy (Cuz I’m actually going. Tomorrow, in fact.) fantasy picks for FGS2011 for Friday, September 9, 2011. I’ll tell you what, though, it’s getting harder and harder to pick which sessions I want to attend.
8:00AM ~ U.S. Territorial Papers, 1789-1873: Records of the Frontiersmen with Linda Woodward Geiger, CG, CGL. You see, I have a 2nd great-grandmother with the surname Davis who had the audacity to marry a Smith between censuses. And this Smith? He died between the marriage and the next census. And then? Her father, Mr. Andrew J. Davis, is purported to be the son of Mr. Jacob Davis because there aren’t any other Davis’ around, but there’s no proof. And this all happens in Iowa and Indiana. You see my dilemma, yes? And let me just add that some DAR apps and some Winthrop Society apps [That’s right. Let’s hear it for the Massachusetts Bay Colonists.] are riding on me figuring it all out. You know, finding the proof? Yeah. It would be a Smith and Davis at the root of my problems. So Ms. Geiger, tell me all about these papers. Pretty please? With sugar on top?
9:30AM ~ Demystifying Eastern European Research with Lisa A. Alzo. Okay, so I have this feeling ~ I don’t know why ~ that I’m going to need this info. You see, my 1st great-grandfather, John Marschall, was born in a small (And I mean, small.) village in Posen, Prussia, which is now located in Poland. He married a woman whose parents were German, and all of their children were baptized in the same Catholic German church in Galveston, Texas. The question is, “Was he German or was he Polish?” I have nothing saying one way or another. Yet. And since John Marschall is my Big Paw Paw’s dad, somehow I don’t think things will be straightforward. And? Why am I suddenly craving Polish sausage and German beer? Lisa, demystify away. [I can call her Lisa because I’ve met her and shared dinner with her. Okay, it was appetizers, but still.]
11AM ~ Researching Your Indian Wars Ancestor Before the Civil War with Craig R. Scott, CG. Why this session? Why not? Pre-Civil War researching can be tricky. It’s less straightforward [even without Big Paw Paw], and these wars seem to get lost in the mix. Did my peeps participate in these wars? I dunno, but I’m going to find out with Mr. Scott’s help.
2PM ~ The Draper Papers: Research in This (In)famous Manuscript Collection with James L. Hansen, FASG. I have quite a few ancestors and their wild and wooly relatives shaking it up between the French and Indian War and the War of 1812 in the “Trans-Allegheny West”. And? I want details. So Mr. Hansen, details please. And? Could you put emphasis on the infamous? I love a good story.
3:30PM ~ Family History in Your Cells: Using DNA for Genealogical Research with Drew Smith, MLS. [Another Smith, I know.] I studied in school that cells were the building blocks of life. And it's true because my Biology teacher, Mr. White, said it was so. Therefore, it isn’t much of a stretch to think they contain stories. You know, family stories? So, how to find them? Besides dissecting, which I did in my Anatomy & Physiology class with Mrs. LaFever, I dunno. But I’m betting Mr. Smith knows.
5PM ~ Apps Galore for the Professional Genealogist with Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL and Rick G. Sayre, CG. All I want for Christmas is an iPad. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@FamilyStories), know I love my iPhone. I mean, truly love my iPhone. Now? I want an iPad. [I know. I’m never satisfied. Who is? Don’t answer that.] And while I’ve been known to scour iTunes and the net for apps, have I missed one? I dunno. It’s possible. And I’m going find out in this session.
Visit the FGS 2011 Conference website for more information about their 2011 conference, Pathways to the Heartland.
Don’t you get tired of that look? That glazed-over look? That blank stare? You know, the look you get when, in response to a family history question from a family member, you start explaining in great detail how you were able to find that small (And I mean, small.) village in what is now Poland, but once was a part of the Prussian Empire, where your great-grandfather was born.
And what I have to say next is going to shock and even dismay you. So sit down and get comfortable before reading any further. Ready?
And our loved ones? What do they care about? I’ll tell you what they care about.
That’s right. While you’ve been carefully crafting research work that would (in your dreams) be worthy of The History Channel, your loved ones just want to know how the family compares to an episode of Jersey Shore.
So what to do? Don’t force the details on your family. Give them what they want in the format they’ll appreciate. [Yes. Give them 'Snooki' and 'The Situation.'] Give them the stories, the photos as well as a chance to add to all of that in a way they can understand. By engaging family members in a non-technical way, you’re more likely to get their input, their stories, their rumors, their secrets, and – dare I say – their details that may be just what you need to find the parish your great-grandfather was more than likely baptized in near that small (And I mean, small) village ~ all without that glazed-over look in their eyes.
Are you going to the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference next week in Springfield, IL? Join 1000memories.com Thursday morning, Sept. 8th at their Engaging Your Family in Genealogy breakfast panel. I’ll be in attendance, but if that doesn’t do it for you [grin], D. Joshua Taylor (Co-chair 2011 FGS Conference), Dear Myrtle (Pat Richley), and Jonathan Good (Co-founder 1000memories) will be on the panel. Space is limited and you must RSVP. For more information please visit the 1000memories.com blog.