Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Challenges of Teaching the "Youth" Genealogy

I recently wrote about our rapidly aging population in the United States. My point was that the area of greatest growth in potential genealogists is among this aging group of "senior citizens." What does the future look like for adding budding genealogists from those who are usually referred to as "youth?"

One of the most common assumptions made about including more young people in family history or genealogy is that they are more technically savvy than the older population. From my perspective, this is a very shortsighted view of the future. As the total U.S. population ages, the present high-tech middle aged will become the "elderly" and they certainly will not lose their computer skills. But let's look at some of the assumptions made when we dismiss this fact and focus our enlistment efforts on the young. Are they really more technically advanced than other age groups?

According to the latest Pew Research Center study, as of 2017, 88% of all adults in the U.S. now use the Internet. Here is a chart from the same Pew Research Center study comparing Internet usage among different age groups.

Even though the over 65 age group is lagging behind the rest of the age groups, there is a steady increase in usage. But note that those from 50 to 64 are essentially on parity with the "youth." Inevitably, all of the lines will merge at almost universal internet usage. Another Pew Research Center study looked at why people do not use the internet and found the following.
A 2013 survey from the Center found some key reasons that some people do not use the internet. A third of non-internet users (34%) did not go online because they had no interest in doing so or did not think the internet was relevant to their lives. Another 32% of non-internet users said the internet was too difficult to use, including 8% of this group who said they were “too old to learn.” Cost was also a barrier for some adults who were offline – 19% cited the expense of internet service or owning a computer.
But if you look at the above chart, you will see that since the 2013 study, the percentage of adults over the age of 65 who use the internet has increased from 56% to 64%.

If the motivation to target youth to expand genealogical involvement is based on the assumption that they are more likely to become involved based on technology, then this assumption needs to be reevaluated.

So why is there such a marked age skewed involvement in family history or genealogy? Among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the number of people who are presently defined as "actively" participating in submitting names for temple ordinances has increased slightly over the past year from just under 4% to just over 4.7% of the total membership. Although demographic data concerning the breakdown of these percentage is not made available, my own observations clearly indicate that the increase has not come from the involvement of additional youth, but comes from the availability of online tools and programs that facilitate those with an interest in participating to do so.

Additional programs to expand genealogical involvement among the youth have centered on concepts incorporating the terms "fun" and "easy." Anyone who has become involved with the Family Tree would have to admit that such activity does not qualify for either of those descriptions unless you are someone who thinks solving difficult puzzles is fun and easy. The real reason why increasing genealogical or family history involvement among the youth has so far escaped the efforts of the promoters is that family history involves activities that the youth identify with work and school. By the time my grandchildren are in middle school, they are spending much of their "free" time away from school doing homework or involved in other learning activities such as music or dance lessons. They are certainly technologically savvy. They do all their homework on computers, but when do they have time in their programmed world to spend the time necessary to acquire the research and analytic skills necessary to become involved in family history and genealogy?

In my own family, my children are just now becoming involved in genealogy. Not because I promoted it as an activity but because they have reached a level of maturity and have enough "free" time since their own children are older, to concentrate on this complex subject.

I think an emphasis on getting a good education with an awareness of our families and their traditions, coupled with participation in the temple at appropriate times in their lives will form a foundation for an increased interest in genealogy in the present and for the future. But I certainly do not think that entertaining computer games with a family theme are going to produce researchers. As I have written previously, I believe the largest untapped group of potential genealogists and family historians lies with the single adults over the age of 30. I also believe that an increased emphasis in Elder's Quorums and in the Relief Society would also help.


  1. I agree that making children away of their family history and traditions is very important. Choosing methods of introducing this to children will be most effective when done in ways that are interesting to children, including storytelling, games, technology, family fun time, etc. Most genealogy researchers today can recount their interest in family history and genealogy beginning when a parent or grandparent told them family stories that were fascinating, weird, mysterious, hilarious, or full of love.

    1. That is certainly correct, but from what you say, it is today's genealogists that became interested in doing their genealogy because of the stories etc. What is being proposed is that the youth become interested now in doing their own genealogy while they are still youth. I don't see that as happening.

  2. I agree with James. The youth don't seem to have an interest in family history long enough to produce some great results. They are and should be more involved with friends, school, getting gainfully employed, married, etc. - all the things that they should be involved with. For these very important reasons, the youth I know don't stick with it long term. They may have consultant callings, and lead out for a time on a rather shallow level, but the get on with their lives. They also lack the maturity to make wise and careful decisions regarding merging duplicate children, or carefully comparing source hints with data for a relative and accurately deciding if they pertain. So ... the more mature genealogists seems to carry on long terms and with more dedication.