Sunday, April 8, 2012

Janet Few--Harnessing the Facebook Generation--a great lecture at WDYTYAL

I had the opportunity to catch a class by Janet Few at Who Do You Think You Are Live 2012. Her title was "Harnessing the Facebook Generation" so you know I had to check that one out. I learned a lot from her perspective.

She geared her remarks to people who were concerned about the future of their family history research. Janet suggested that getting younger people involved were crucial to ensuring the future of your research. Genealogists need to be concerned about making the hobby attractive to the next generation. She conducted a quick survey at the Devon Family History Society stand at the conference on Friday. They asked Who Do You Think You Are Live attendees whether or not they were worried about what would happen to their research ? Two thirds of the people said that, yes, they were concerned that someone would care about it after they were gone. Genealogists should be really concerned about getting the younger generation involved.

Janet was absolutely right when she stated that we need to be asking ourselves why they are not interested. I think Americans are a lot like the British in saying they have other commitments. It was interesting in the difference between the British and American focus on the archives rather than the Internet. In that way I think Americans may have the advantage in attracting the next generation because we are so focused on the Internet rather than going to an archive. I thought it was amusing that she felt one of the excuses young people might use was that visiting the archives was expensive. It is so much less expensive there than it is for an American to travel to visit an archive, especially archive abroad. Perhaps that is an excuse that Americans can use even when they are older.

I found it very refreshing to hear her assert that if they are interested enough they will find the time and money. She is right. We need to focus on making sure they know how fun and interesting it is, and not worry about the particulars. They will figure the particulars out if they are interested. We just have to make it look exciting.

As I went looking for information about involving children in family history throughout this conference I could see she has an uphill battle in England making the genealogists interested in bringing in the next generation. I found responses such as "I was told as a child to be seen and not heard, so I was never allowed to ask questions about my family history," or "We can't very well have children involved in something as complicated as this.". One magazine editor told me that they hadn't published anything about getting children involved because they didn't believe that interested their readers. One of the major concerns that Janet was facing in her audience was, "Does it matter?". To that lack of concern, Janet asked, "Will the gap be too wide when they get interested later?" I had never thought about it this way, but she is absolutely right that when we don't involve the next generation, we are missing the opportunity to bridge that gap together. We need to involve them now so that it won't be so hard for them when they become interested as they become older. She also asserted that we need the tech generation to help us preserve our history. We need them as much as they need us. But we have to present it in a way that is interesting. They aren't interested in doing genealogy the way we do it.

I loved her ideas about the Facebook generation being educated differently and that the way they get info is different than the way older people access information. To attract young genealogists we need to look at the way they access information. I agree with her that they go straight to the Internet and then only sometimes do they ever get to books. I'm not sure that I agree that they are more likely to look for name in Facebook than in google, but she very well may be right. Janet talked about the Braund Family Group on Facebook. She noted that there are 200 members of the society in real life, and 200 members on facebook, but only 40 of the actual members are members on facebook--thus the facebook group attracted 160 people to their cause. Of those, she estimated that 108 are estimated to be under 30 years old. She spoke of her experiences as a young family historian. She said when she joined the Braund One Name Society, at the age of 30 she was one of 4 young members and she was amused to find that 24 years later she was still one of the youngest members. She was excited to have the society on Facebook, and felt that this was the place where most young people would go to search for information about their family. She feels that Facebook is the best way to talk to youth. Though social networking isn't a substitute for a mailing list or blog, she also noted that a local journalist was following them on twitter, yea--free publicity. But does it really help your research? For youth, a facebook group is a great place to ask questions. It is also a great place to share photos and info.

Janet had some great examples of getting younger people involved with their family history. The first, is a children's website put together by the Devon Family History Society, the Acorn Club. She said you need to ask young people how to develop a website for them. She also showed off where a doll goes from member of the family to member of the family and writes letters on the blog. Janet also recommended the Horrible Histories TV show on the BBC. We had a great time watching some of the clips on youtube. My favorite is the Tudor Diet Plan. Like I've said here too, you need to do it in a youthful way. If kids were attracted to the way we do genealogy, we'd already have way too many children interested. So we have to rethink. Janet had some great ideas.

Janet's handout can be found at You can bet I'm following her on facebook. You should too.


Laurie and Todd said...

Thanks for a very topical topic! Our local genealogy library is struggling with the new technology opportunities.
Do you have a Facebook presence? If so I have missed your link to Share. I would rather "Share" your information than have to copy it.

Janet Hovorka said...

We do have a facebook presence at But I also added the share links to the bottom of the posts. Thanks for the suggestion!