The question in the title to this post was asked of me more than once in the last week. Genealogy seems such a huge burden to dump on unsuspecting interested neophytes. Unfortunately I think we, as experienced genealogists, tend to try and covey all of our years of experience all at one time. This reminds me of the classes I had in genealogy years ago where the instructor would come in with a hand truck loaded with huge 11 x 17 inch binders. The lesson would essentially be a dissertation on the joys of hauling around 200 lbs. of genealogy materials. Of course, we left the classes thankful that we didn't have that burden.
Some of us are still stuck in the "hand the neophyte a paper pedigree chart" stage of teaching people about genealogy. Well, I have a few suggestions that might move us out of that dull, dull, dull syndrome. Another mistake is teaching a class or series of classes on genealogy that has no instruction about finding ancestors. The classes may be very inspirational but motivation is not a problem if people are already sitting in a class where genealogy or family history is the topic. They want to know how to start. they want to know what to do.
Here are my 5 Steps to starting people in genealogy. They will need their Membership number unless they already have a FamilySearch.org or LDS.org login and password. They will need both the login and the password. I would be a good idea to tell them to bring a photo of a family member or an ancestor to the class. Remember that many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints likely have some or many names in the Family Tree program.
The key to starting a family tree is FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Get the person signed into the program and show him what is already in Family Tree. It may be nothing but his or her name or it may be hundreds of names. Frequently, if a person's parents or even grandparents are living, it is necessary to "connect" the living person with the first dead ancestor before the rest of the pedigree will appear. Here is where the instruction begins. It is a one-on-one experience getting the person started entering family information. Make sure the person knows that he or she can "get into the program" from home.
Why do I think we need to start here? Because any other method, especially on using a paper form will likely result in a loss of progress made. If the person puts any information in Family Tree it will be there the next time there is a class or log on.
What about encouraging them to get a "genealogy program?" I would suggest this be left to much later. It makes no sense to try to teach both Family Tree and another genealogy program at the same time.
Show the new genealogists FamilySearch.org's Memories, i.e. Photos, Stories and Documents. If their family has been active they will see photos and stories and perhaps some documents. If not, then they need to see an example of what can be done. Make arrangements by having them bring a photo, to scan a photo and upload it to Family Tree.
Show them the different "Views" in Family Tree and explain each view. Especially show them the Descendancy View with the notifications if they already have a lot of their ancestors. This is especially true if they feel that "everything has already been done." If this is the case, show them and explain Puzzilla.org in addition to the Descendancy View. In each case, carefully explain that all these "dead ends" are opportunities to find ancestors that need Temple ordinances.
Once they have seen the basic program, go to the Record Hints and Research Help and help them find and attach a source to one or more of their records. Explain why we need to attach sources and suggest that they may wish to add sources to any family members, especially their immediate family, that are lacking in the program. Explain that they need to look at the sources to make sure the record refers to the same person.
Help them find a missing family member. This may involve more than one or two sessions. But it is important that the new genealogist see the process of adding a name. Using Puzzilla.org and the new Descendancy View, it should be possible to find a family to research.
Once they are to this stage, they should be encouraged to continue. Now is the time to suggest going through records, photos and such at home to find additional information. The old paradigm of "get a box" is out of date. We have a box. It is called Family Tree. Get busy.