Imagine that 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
When you're thirsty, you reach for a glass of water or go to a water fountain. You don't go to a firehose. The firehose gives a LOT more water, but it's too much to take in all at once.
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 (or entertainment), not the torrent of data that we've collected.
They just wanted a drink of water, not the whole firehose.
Where We Go Wrong When Talking With Non-Genealogists
We genealogists are a passionate bunch. Our research is important to us and we want to share our discoveries 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 become curious?
If you're talking to someone who is curious, keep the emphasis on the ancestor, not the research. If my niece or nephew asks me what I've found lately, I might tell them all about a maiden great-aunt who went blind late in life and died in the county home. I'm not going to go through everything I did to identify her, including resolving the fact that her death record had the wrong name.
Yes, we want to be accurate, but we don't want 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 -
- Tell them a brief story (and keep them interested so they don't go running 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-sized bites that you give them will make them want the full meal.
What strategies have worked for you when talking with the non-genealogists in your family?