Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Attracting 21sters to your Genealogy Society

Local genealogical societies are staffed with volunteers that have worked very hard to keep their societies going, year after year after year.  They are dedicated and hard-working volunteers that give their all.  They are my heroes and I am proud to work along-side them.  However, chances are that some local genealogical societies are still doing their business the same way they've been doing it for many years -- perhaps for decades. 

Memberships in genealogical societies have been declining lately.  It is a common concern in many societies.  Board members have begun to worry about the long term viability of their society, and they wonder how they will attract new members.  This blog deals with the issue of attracting 21sters.

Twenty-firsters are people who, regardless of age, have embraced the 21st century and its technology.  They are usually busy people with full schedules, and they probably use multiple technological products to manage the varied aspects of their life.  With computers, tablets, smartphones and the internet, they do banking, shopping, reading, socializing and more -- mostly online.  And they probably approach genealogy research expecting to use these same tools, expecting that research can be done mostly online. 

Contrast that kind of lifestyle to your local genealogical society.  They may have a significant quantity of society activities throughout each year, but these activities are probably geared to the majority of their current members -- many of whom probably do not identify themselves as 21sters.  A large number of these current members, with exceptions of course, did not grow up using technological products. They aren't familiar with them, they may not want to learn about them, or they may even feel overwhelmed by them. 

Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that a Society's online presence often times is lacking the features that 21sters are used to, and therefore the Society may be unappealing to 21sters.  If a Society were judged solely by their online presence [which may be the case in this situation], 21sters may dismiss the Society as being irrelevant to them and therefore not worth their time, energy, or support.  The idea of attending a Genealogical Society meeting may not even occur to them.  Why drive to a library to hear a live person speak about something when they could instead find a webinar on the internet?  What would a Society meeting offer them that they can't get online? 

Now, as an experienced genealogist, I know without a doubt that there are many things that are not online yet.  I personally enjoy visiting repositories and can't get enough of them.  However, that perspective differs from the typical 21ster that is new to genealogy.  Yet somehow we need to appeal to them right where they are at.  There are a myriad of reasons to be a part of a dynamic genealogical society, but without first convincing 21sters that we are relevant to them, we probably won't have the chance to continue the conversation.

This blog exists to share ideas on how traditional Genealogical Societies can adapt so that they appeal to 21sters.  Let's get this conversation going!

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Attribution:  Please note that I am not the originator of the term "21ster", nor am I the first to express the concerns mentioned in this blog post.  Please see the list of other blog posts and/or links to video(s) in the left-hand sidebar of my blog for others who have inspired me.  

24 comments:

  1. Let me be among the first to welcome you to the blogging world -- and you did it all on your own! Congratulations! When you get a few more posts, let's add it to the list of member blogs on our chapter blog and add it to geneabloggers. I bet I know what you did on Labor Day.

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  2. I absolutely agree!! I am 62 years old, retired, and a recovering stroke survivor with way too much free time on my hands. I am an avid user of Facebook, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.com. I am unable to get out and do research or attend meetings, as much as I'd like to spend days in libraries all over 10 states! I've only been researching a couple of years, but am fascinated and want to learn so much more. Your idea of bringing geneology groups and societies into the 21st century is awesome!

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    1. Thanks so much Gail for the encouragement! Good luck to you in your recovery.

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  3. Jenny, congratulations on the blog. I am a Baby Boomer, and while I'd been doing genealogy for 25 years, I was "afraid" of this new technology called blogging and social media. As a genealogy newsletter editor, I see what happens when effort is made to reach the 21st-ers — and what happens to societies when effort is not made. Have you been to FGS or other conferences where this topic has been discussed? This conversation is very interesting!!

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    1. Hi Linda, thanks for commenting. RE: FGS, etc, I did view a webinar (see sidebar on my blog) from the FGS 2011 conference. And I found a handful of posts about this issue, but no on-going conversations. In your role as a newsletter editor, what have you seen happen when effort is made to reach 21st-ers? I would love to know which strategies worked best; how you know they worked well, etc. In fact, if you would like to publish a blog post about that either on your own blog or here if you prefer, that would be awesome!

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  4. I love your ideas! I recently created a facebook page for the group I belong to. We also have a web site with links to various databases.

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    1. Congrats on creating a facebook page. We just re-created ours last October, and I wonder if it's had an effect yet on attracting more members to our society. Have you noticed an effect yet from your efforts? Thanks.

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  5. Great idea for a blog! I started doing family history research about 16 years ago. I absolutely love the technological advances that have been made in the genealogy world.

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    1. Just wanted to let you know your blog was listed on my Fab Finds list at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2012/09/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-september-7.html

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  6. Thank you for starting this thread on your blog. It is an important topic for any society that wants to continue. You pose an excellent question, how do we have a conversation with a 21st-er when attending meetings is not something they want to do. I am an older genealogist who started with a genealogical society in my late 20's. I was busy with work, family, and doing my own genealogy, but because I was so into genealogy I continued with the society for several years. I eventually quit the society as I was just too busy and it didn't seem to have much to entice me to attend meetings except for keeping up with friends I had made. A couple of years ago I decided to get back into the society and have been impressed with how comfortable a large number of our members are with technology.
    Our society has made significant inroads into the techie arena. We have what I find to be an excellent web page where you can read the newsletter, find out about coming events, and find a substantial index to local materials. We also have our own library of several thousand volumes at a local college. Our publicity chair has been working to get linked with social networking via Facebook, a society blog, and Twitter. Now how do we get new members to buy into what we have to offer?

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    1. Good question! I have a few ideas now, and hopefully others who read this blog will mention more ideas. Together we can make progress, I believe. Congrats on your society's progress to date.

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    2. Welcome to the blogging world Jenny! Great topic and I look forward to future posts.

      I'm definitely a 21st-er! I spent the weekend setting up my PowerSpec!

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  7. I just discovered your blog today from the Geneabloggers list of new blogs. I think this is a unique and terrific idea for a blog. I am struggling as a newly elected presdient of a local genealogical society. Ignoring my age, I am definately a 21ster. I love and use all things technology but we need more 21sters.

    Our biggest immediate issue is that out of the 30 to 40 that show up for monthly meetins, only 10 to 15 are actively volunteering and they have done the work fro decades and getting tired of it. We need more members who are interested in actively participating.

    I would really be interested in a blog post identifying some of the things that attract 21sters. Especially, the younger ones.

    Please keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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    1. Hi Eileen! I get what you're saying about tired volunteers, doing the work for such a long time. That's rough. I will continue to send ideas as they occur to me or as I discover them elsewhere. Hopefully others will contribute their ideas too.
      Thanks for your encouragement.

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  8. Hello. Thomas at Geneabloggers tweeted about your site. I retweeted it to help get the word out and will follow you on FB. Good luck!

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    1. Hey Tim, thanks for the RT! Catch you later!

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  9. Jenny, your blog was sent to me by our former blogger and Idaho Genealogical Society Vice-President Christa Klemme. Christa was responsible for setting up our IGS Facebook page, our IGS blog, and introducing us to Constant Contact. Today I just ordered through Tech Soup, a group for non-profits out of California to assist with technology issues and software, the Go-To-Meeting software program where up to 25 people can attend a meeting and view a presentation. I was able to get a trial offer and have three meetings that last two months. During one of the meetings, we had 7 people attend and was able to view everyone through their web cams, which showed mini thumbnail photos of everyone in the upper right hand side of the screen.

    This past year we have been using Skype to hold meetings once a month which helps for those that live out of the area and not in Treasure Valley.

    Our newly appointed IGS Vice-President lives in Mesa, Arizona. He is working to have a Virtual Chapter for in 2013 where we can have online genealogy classes similar to those run by the Utah Genealogical Association. Each class would be recorded and free to the general public. However, once they were recorded they would be stored in the members only section of our website.

    In addition to the new technology mentioned above, Christa introduced us to Drop Box and set up everything with individual folders with specific categories. We have a magazine that we publish four times a year. Now as we get the material, either text or photos, the information is moved to the specific folder (Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter 2012). When it comes time to do the magazine, the editors can view the material and start working on it from their own computer. We no longer have to email items to each other. They are always stored in our Drop Box.

    I even stored my Power Point Presentation in Drop Box when I gave my presentation on "Citing Your Sources" for the Family History Conference in Rexburg in April.

    Christa jump started us in technology and I will always be grateful for that push.
    I will tell you that when I was in high school there were no computers. So, I am constantly trying to learn new ways at 63, but this keeps me young.

    Regards,
    Juvanne Martin, CG
    President of the Idaho Genealogical Society
    Nampa, Idaho
    208-461-8866
    http://www.idahogenealogy.org

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  10. Hello Juvanne, ... WOW! Thanks for giving so many great details on ways to use Technology in a society. I hope others read your comments too. RE: constantly learning new ways, I hear that. And since Technology is always changing, I suspect we all will be learning something new frequently.

    I just learned of Tech Soup last week and hope to benefit from their resources soon. RE: Virtual Chapter offering free classes while live then available in members-only section, I think that's Genius!! Really.

    A couple questions, if you don't mind (and I hope this reaches you):

    1. Have you seen a positive effect in attracting 21sters, due to these technological products being utilized? I assume you have, but didn't know for sure and thought I would confirm.

    2. Did you encounter resistance to these changes, and if so, how did you persuade people to try them out? [You can reply privately, if you wish at: jmdavis2888@gmail.com]

    Again, I thank you!

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  11. My observations are from someone who attended a genealogical society meeting to hear a guest speaker, and more importantly, to see the ratio of older members to younger ones.

    At the outset, it was obvious that this particular society is dominated by those older than 50. Prior to the guest speaker taking the podium one of the officers made the comment that the turnout that night was one of their best. The problem that I noted was that 99% of everyone in that room was older than me, some probably twice my age, judging from their gray hair and/or balding heads.

    I didn't join the society for reasons of my own, but I have looked in on several of their meetings over the last two years for the express purpose of seeing if young people attend. I'm sorry to report that almost every one of those gatherings lack young people, save for one or two meetings where it looked like one, maybe two attendees were under the age of 35.

    I'm sure that there a numerous reasons for the lack of participation amongst today's youth, but one I want to address is the simple lack of interest. This genealogical society has existed for 40-plus years, and has cited historical preservation as one of its accomplishments. My community has 25,000 people, and I can say with confidence that historical preservation, at least amongst the town's youth, is of no interest to them. There is no historical society where I live, and if young folks are enthusiastic about preserving older structures, you couldn't prove it by me!

    I think it is sad that computers, iPhones, iPads, or whatever the latest gadget is these days dominates the lives of the under-30 crowd. Rather than getting involved in preservation by rolling up their shirt sleeves, youngsters rather talk on their cell phones or pound away at a computer keyboard.

    My post was not meant to be one of gloom and doom. The genealogical and historical preservation movement in America is facing SERIOUS challenges when it comes to youth involvement. From where I live there is little hope of that happening.

    Elmer Burnside

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  12. Thank you, Elmer, for sharing your observations and opinions. I really appreciate it.

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  13. Mrs.Davis, thank you for sharing your ideas and opinions on this forum. It has been interesting to read.

    I would like to expound on what I wrote earlier regarding youth addiction to electronic gadgets. This is something I have noticed in my hometown -- the way cell phones have become an external vital organ, so to speak. While the (over)use of cell phones is not about to go away, it really is tragic how the youngsters of today choose to interact with an inanimate object as opposed to getting involved in some worthwhile endeavor that has lasting signifigance. Consequently I have serious doubts about the long-term viability of some genealogical and/or historicaly-themed organizations.

    Perhaps you and your readers have noticed this misconception young people have: you CANNOT and WILL NOT find everything on the Internet; it is impossible. A person's successful research is reliant upon the input and uploading of information by others. A simple case of input/output. That is why young folks need to get involved in their local genealogical societies, as there might be those who are seasoned veterans at fleshing out much-needed information. On top of that, you just might meet someone who will take you under their wing and assist your efforts and become a mentor. Maybe young folks hesitate at the notion of joing the local group because of some sort of stigma of associating with senior citizens -- a sad reminder of peer pressure.

    Genealogical societies and historical preservation groups have a common denominator with museums: historical research. Along with my discreet observations of the local genealogical society meetings in-progress, I have inquired of a couple of transportation museums in the region concerning the same subject. Both have conceded the lack of participation among younger citizens. One museum president even made the same observation before I had a chance to voice it -- electronic gizmos are all the rage, and that keeps youngsters preoccupied. How sad.

    So I have drawn the conclusion that there are those historical and/or genealogical organizations who are, or will be in peril. If young people don't join and come up through the ranks those groups will see their membership numbers continue to dwindle to the point where the group will simply disband. I don't want to see that any more than the next person, but the younger generation has their priorities misplaced.

    Thanks again for allowing me to comment.
    Elmer Burnside

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    1. Hi! Thanks for elaborating. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      I agree with you that not all records are on the internet. Yes, more are added all the time, but we have a long way to go.

      I do think that our genealogical and historical organizations face an uphill battle to interest the youth in America today. If we modernize the way our organizations are accessed and experienced, I think we stand a better chance of attracting youths. I also think that if we can share our family stories with them, really make our ancestors come alive in their imaginations, maybe it will interest them -- if not now, then later. And maybe later will be soon enough to help organizations in need? I hope so... Time will tell.



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