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Our Strong Family Association of America feels we need to attract our younger generations. There does seem to be a recurring interest in genealogy. Actual participation in a society, however, is something else again! My current project is to accept online payments. Until this point, mailing in a paper check is the only option!

My question is this. Has your surname-based organization faced this question? What answers did you come up with?

We have published several print volumes of family history, and have countless thousands more pages available to publish if we had the historians, writers, editors, researchers available to bring it to print. However, "having the knowledge" does not necessarily equate to "inducing the interest!"

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Genealogical societies everywhere seem to be facing the same dilema; needing to attract younger users and trying to convince them of the value of joining a society. As one of the youngest members in our genealogical society, I would suggest:

  1. Meet them where they are. What outreach activities are you engaged in? Do you only go to public speaking events where the audience is almost always likely to be seniors? Can you piggyback on someone else's event and set up a table? Can you look for an exciting angle to one of your stories? (any pirates in the family? any strong women? any mysteries?)
  2. Don't assume engaging young people means giving a presentation at their school. School is school. There is a certain condescension in assuming that young people will embrace something if they are just made to sit and listen.
  3. Start a Twitter account I went to the Strong Family of America website and didn't see one. This is how young people like to communicate; discover; share ideas; and generally talk about what's exciting or cool to them at the moment. You can put a feed on your website that shows what people are 'Tweeting' about you :) This will help young people to feel that they can engage with you in a manner that is familiar and relevant to them. It will let them know that they're welcome here.
  4. Be honest with yourself Schedule time as a leadership group to have a review process - where you clearly identify what you are doing to engage younger members (these don't have to be teens, younger members to your society might mean baby boomers!) and be honest... some of your current members might not actually want younger, inexperienced people around. In my society, when it was suggested that we start a facebook account, one board member loudly stated that, "We don't want those kinds of people joining.
  5. You are on the right track with starting an online-payment system. Make it as easy for people to act upon their impulse to join as possible.

Also, regarding your published materials and backlog of research that is yet unpublished. I think that we need to recognize that we are incapable of competing with ancestry.com and other big genealogy sites that add new indexes and databases every day. We need to focus upon our strengths and what makes us unique. Perhaps you have a members' only section of your website? Are you offering content there that can't be gotten anywhere else? Are you offering 'helps', research services to your members that ancestry can't do? What is unique to only your collection and how are you marketing that/communicating that to potential joiners? As you said, "Having the knowledge does not equate to inducing the interest". Inducing interest is really all about how you go about marketing. It is not really an 'if you build it, they will come' kind of thing. Find someone in your group who has a marketing or public relations background and pick their brain over how to meet and engage new users. You may want to even create a new Outreach Coordinator position (volunteer or paid).

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Thank you very kindly, Canadian Girl Scout! I'll be sending your response around to our board forthwith. –  Edward Barnard Nov 27 '12 at 1:17
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I am not associated with a "surname-based organisation" so I can't answer from that perspective, although I am a member of a county-based family history society in the UK so that must be similar.

I have to make an observation that genealogy (& family history) are very popular with people above a certain age. Attracting the "younger generation" isn't something any genealogical group seems to have managed to my knowledge. It's tempting to assume that as we get older then we understand the need to reconstruct the past, and to preserve it. We've all met people, though, who just never "get it", and think the past is a waste of time [..there's a quote for you]. By that same token, no historical research should ever be conducted so it's not a rational stance.

Ironically I hated history at school, but I've come to understand it and develop a passion for it since entering genealogy. Whether it would have instilled the same enthusiasm when I was at school is debatable but it would have personalised it. Hence, I believe a school syllabus should include some element of family history.

The Web site for my family history society has recently been revamped, but it still has many of the issues that it had before. For instance, no actual login or personal details/preferences, no forum, virtually no way to communicate with other researchers with the common interest. Your own site may be much better but I list them here because genealogy can be a social hobby.

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You mention 'a school syllabus should include some element of family history'. All of my children had projects in school where they had to get family history from family members other than their parents and siblings. They all loved it, and the relatives they talked to loved it also. –  Duncan Nov 29 '12 at 17:56
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That sounds great. I wish all schools were as smart. I was thinking more about using online resources but talking directly to family members has advantages all of its own. –  ACProctor Nov 29 '12 at 18:07
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