What Millennials Can Teach Us About Family History

Many people describe millennials as shallow, self-absorbed, and selfie-obsessed. They’re quick to dismiss the selfies, photos of food, and 10-second Snapchat videos. But millennials actually have a lot to teach the rest of us about family history. 

I doubt that most millennials would consider themselves family historians (and even fewer would call themselves genealogists). But think about what they’re doing when they take all those pictures of themselves, their friends, and their food. They’re actually documenting their own life.

There are photos out there that millennials probably wouldn’t want their future grandchildren to see. Putting aside the NSFW (Not Safe For Work) selfies, think about all that they are documenting. Parties. Special events. Good times with friends and family. Everyday life.

Consider this: How many photos do you have of your grandparents with their best friends? How many photos do you have of your grandparents’ favorite meal? (Do you even know what their favorite meal was?)

Millennials and Family History

All of this struck me recently while I was on vacation. One afternoon, my daughter and I were taking a short river cruise with my parents. She whipped out her phone and took two selfies with her grandparents.


Then I started paying more attention to what she was taking pictures of. Ice cream cones (they were *huge*!) Seagulls (trying to attack us for said ice cream cones). Boat rides with her cousin.on-the-boat

crosswordsThere was also this gem that she shared on Snapchat. My mom and I were trying so hard to finish the crossword puzzle. (We finally made it, with the help of a Google search.)

But What About Labeling? What About Preservation?

For those of us who have been “doing” family history and genealogy for awhile, we know that we’re supposed to label our photos. We’re supposed to add metadata so that we can find them later and know what they are. But I’ll let you in on a little secret:

[clickToTweet tweet=”You can’t label a photo that doesn’t exist. #familyhistory #genealogy” quote=”You can’t label a photo that doesn’t exist.”]

Are any of my daughter’s photos archivally sound? Do they have all of the proper labels? Have they been organized into folders or albums? No. But these photos exist. That’s the crucial first step. We can work on labeling and preservation later.

The Lesson for the Non-Millennials

We don’t need to make duckfaces. We don’t need to take NSFW selfies. But we can take a cue from the millennials in our lives. Take photos. Lots of them. Take photos of your family, your friends, your tough crossword puzzles, and the seagull that’s trying to steal your ice cream cone. Take photos of yourself. Yes, you might feel a bit silly at first. But you know what? Even if you feel silly taking a selfie with your best friend, your descendants could cherish that photo and the glimpse it gives into your everyday life.


Millennials and family history don't seem to go together. As it turns out, there's a lot they can teach the rest of us.

Posted: June 21, 2016.

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  • I love this! I was thinking about this very thing a lot over the last year and the fact that I have not been doing enough with my photos of the present and very recent past. So I created a private instagram account and started trying to document something every day or two. Cute things my four year old says, milestones, etc. Then I created a Chatbooks account and it automatically prints my instagram posts every time I hit 60 posts. My family loves the books and I can stop feeling guilty about my scrapbooking laziness. Plus, my photos taken on my nice camera that are just sitting, waiting for something to be done with them usually have a companion photo in a Chatbook with a little info written that very day.

  • I came across a letter recently from my parents to my dad’s parents written in the early 70s. My mother tells them about my 6-year-old adventures as her baking assistant. I was thinking that if my dad hadn’t been a struggling student and they had told the story over the phone, it would never have been preserved, but if it happened today, they’d have posted it on FB or Instagram!

    I would say, though, that preservation is as urgent as taking the photos, especially on a smart phone. I’ve heard a couple of horror stories lately, anything can happen to that device.

    • Preservation is definitely important, no matter what media you’re using! Always have a backup, whether you’re saving those photos to a cloud service or downloading them to a computer (and making more copies from there).

  • Hi Amy, I don’t have grandchildren, yet, but I have a newly married niece who snapchats. How do I save a snapchat? She said that she likes them because they are only temporary.

    • The easiest way is to take a screenshot while you’re looking at the snap. (You do have to be quick!) There are also some third-party apps that you can install that will save them automatically and that will save a video. I haven’t tried any of them, so I can’t report on their ease of use.

  • Great reminder and a very good point. As someone who has lots of unmarked photos though, I can only imagine how many unidentified photos future generations will be dealing with if the aren’t labeled. The big advantage however is that likely the volume and variety of photos will aid in their identification.

  • This is a really good thought but you cast up an immediate barrier to a millennial audience with your intro. I think there many ways to describe our generation without insulting us the second we land on your article.

    • Thanks for your comment! It’s unfortunate that many people describe millennials that way. As the mother of one, I know that isn’t the case. I’ll reword it to better reflect my intent.