You’re heading to a family gathering and you can’t wait to tell them all about the genealogy brick-wall problem that you finally solved. They’re going to be so excited!
So you tell everyone who will listen all about the late nights spent searching database after database. The countless trips to the library and the courthouse. The hours spent analyzing documents and resolving inconsistencies. But instead of excitement, you’re answered with:
“Excuse me. I need to go help with the dishes.”
Drinking From a Firehose
It’s the same when we go overboard with talking about our research and what we’ve found. The person we’re talking to just wants a little knowledge, not the torrent of data that we’ve collected.
They just wanted a drink of water, not the entire fire hose.
Where We Go Wrong When Talking to Non-Genealogists
We genealogists are a passionate bunch. Our research is important to us and we want to share the discoveries about our family with our relatives. After all, it’s their history, too.
But many of our relatives aren’t quite there yet. They might be curious about what we’ve found, but they aren’t interested in the research process like we are.
That’s where we lose them.
When someone asks us, “What have you found in the family tree?” they don’t want a litany of sources, repositories, and analysis. They want the story of the ancestor, not the story of you discovering the ancestor.
Going through all of the twists and turns and struggles of our research confuses most people who aren’t “into” genealogy research. It’s overwhelming to them.
The Thing to Remember
The first rule of storytelling is “Know your audience.” Consider the person you’re talking to. Are they as “into” genealogy as you are or are they just starting to be curious?
If you’re talking to someone who is curious, keep the emphasis on the ancestor, not your research. If my niece or nephew asks me what I’ve found, I might tell them about a maiden great-great-aunt who went blind late in life and died in the county home. I’m not going to tell them everything I went through to find her, including resolving the fact that her death record had the wrong name.
Yes, we want to be accurate. But we don’t need to overwhelm people.
Ask yourself this: Is it better to
- tell that person every single thing you know and everything you went through to find it (and turn them off in the process) – or –
- to tell them a brief story (and keep them interested so they don’t run away the next time they see you)?
My money is on #2.
Keep it short. Keep it simple, Keep them coming back for more. Who knows — maybe those appetizer-size bites you give them will make them want to join you for the full meal.
What strategies have worked for you when talking to the non-genealogists in your family?