Is it true that millennials don't care about genealogy? Are they indifferent to their family history? I decided to find out...
Rather than just muse about how much (or how little) millennials care about family history, I decided to interview one of the millennials in my life: my daughter, Rachel. (We do acknowledge that she's had a bit of an atypical family history experience compared to others in her generation. However, she has a pretty good handle on what her friends do and do not like.)
Who Are Millennials?
The Millennial generation begins around 1981 and ends around 1998. They are not junior high and high school students. (They are part of what's called Generation Z or sometime "iGen.") Millennials are now legal adults. They're starting careers, getting married, starting families... They're not still in high school.
Are Millennials Interested in Family History?
Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: When it comes to the things in our family history (like family heirlooms and keepsakes), millennials "need to have a reason." It isn't enough to just pass down a vase and expect someone of my daughter's generation to want it (and keep it). Whose was it? What is that person's story? Why is this vase special to us?
But what about the family tree? Do millennials care about knowing about their ancestors? According to Rachel, they do. When her friends find out that I'm a genealogist, a common reaction is, "Oh my gosh, I've always wanted to learn about my family tree." They just don't know where to start.
DNA is also popular. Many of her friends have either taken a test or are interested in taking one; some even have the goal of traveling to an ancestral homeland.
About Learning How...
Rachel observed that one of the biggest hurdles for millennials to find out more about their ancestors is knowing where to start. Going on Ancestry quickly becomes overwhelming. "There's so much here."
So how do millennials find out how to research? Well, they aren't learning it from genealogy societies. In referring to her friends who have done some genealogy, "This is going to sound bad, but I don't think they realize that they're a thing."
With so many societies saying that they want more of the "younger generation" to join, how can they be more appealing? "They would have to show a clear benefit like, 'This is what you're going to get out of being part of this,' instead of just being vague, 'We do genealogy.'" (Personally, I think that's spot on advice to get new members of any age!)
Don't Call It Research
I asked Rachel if the thought of doing research is something that is appealing to millennials or if it's a turn-off. "I think in general the idea of research is unappealing, but if you phrased it as 'learning about your family history,' I think that's more appealing."
Rachel noted that the millennials who she knows love to learn. So rather than planting an image of being stuck alone in a study carrel in the deep corners of a library, appealing to their love of learning lets them know they can enjoy the process.
What Do Millennials Hope to Find?
Everyone has his or her own set of reasons for exploring their family history. I asked Rachel what she thinks millennials hope to find:
"I think they're trying to find themselves in a way. They're trying to figure out their path. We're beginning our careers, just finishing college, starting families and stuff and all of this change is happening. Like you're moving out of your parents' house, you're buying your first house or getting an apartment, you're starting a career. You're doing all this and it's easy to forget where you came from in all that change. So I think when millennials are trying to do their family history, they're trying to figure out what happened to bring them here? Like what did their parents do? What did their grandparents do? Where did their great grandparents come from? How did all of that get to be you?"
"I think that's what a lot of millennials are trying to find is who they are, where they came from and why."
A millennial speaking about #familyhistory: "What a lot of millennials are trying to find is who they are, where they came from, and why."
How to Talk With a Millennial About Family History
Rachel offered this advice for anyone wanting to get the millennials in their lives more interested in family history: Just talk to them. "Just talk to them about it and make that connection."
(Oh, and call it "learning about your family history" rather than research.)
What has been your experience with the millennials in your life when it comes to family history? If it's been positive, what worked for you? If not so positive, has anything here given you any ideas of what to try?