Since I first became involved in the genealogy community, I noticed a common theme centered around people of my age group. After attending my first genealogy conference, I saw the theory in action: In my 30s, I was one of the youngest in the room and my age group was greatly under-represented. At first I found this confusing. Wasn’t everyone my age interested in genealogy? Considering the selfie-loving mentality of the times we live in, it seems only natural that Millennials would be involved in a hobby that is basically the ultimate selfie. Yet people my age and younger are considered the minority in the genealogy community to the point where entire conversations, articles, and podcast episodes are dedicated to creative ways of getting them involved. Why?
After reading those articles, listening to those podcasts, and hearing the feedback on Twitter from fellow genies my age and older who have lived this, I’m comfortable stating why I am probably in the minority:
1). Stage of Life – When you’re in your teens, twenties, and thirties, big things are happening. There’s school, romance, self discovery, marriage, home buying, applying for jobs, and starting a family to worry about. It’s no wonder a hobby would take a backseat. Despite my own fervent interest in family history, I myself didn’t start researching in earnest until my daughter was born a few years ago and I had a sense of doing this for her, too.
2). Time – All of the life events above equal no spare time to spend on anything else. Plain and simple; there are only so many hours in a day.
3). Money – Let’s face it, genealogy conferences and pilgrimages aren’t cheap. Neither are website subscriptions, family tree software, or DNA tests when you have college tuition and diapers accounting for every dollar.
4). Lack of Interest – As hard it is for me to believe sometimes, genealogy is just not everyone’s cup of tea. If you began with no interest in family or history, it makes sense why you would not be pursuing it now.
5). Lack of Knowledge – It sounds funny considering that it’s hard to watch certain television channels without seeing an Ancestry DNA commercial, but, though I’ve always been interested in family history, I never even considered that genealogy could be a hobby until recently. I had no idea that there was an entire community of like-minded people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and etc. doing just that who were willing to help, support, and cheer each other on. Why? Honestly, I don’t know. Call it ignorance o living in a bubble. What I do know is that, since taking my first DNA test, starting this blog, and joining the genealogy Twitter community, I have gained entree into a truly fun world of discovery, friendship, and family. My life is enriched thanks to a hobby that never ceases to be interesting.
Now, I have never been #4 on that list. I have always had a foot in the past. I am prone to nostalgic musings, I wish I could dress 1930s every day, and I’m enchanted by old movies. Paired with this is an intense love and interest in family. Growing up as an only child, I was always fascinated by large families. I would beg my mom to tell me stories about her family and her past, which exasperated her no doubt because she is a person with one foot in the present and the other walking forward. So really I was always set up to enjoy the study of family history. It was a natural and easy progression for me. I realize this is not so for everyone and, like any hobby or interest, what is fun for one may be a complete bore for another (try as I might, I can’t find football interesting, sorry!). However, if you are a 30 something or younger, and haven’t dipped your toe in to the wonderful world of genealogy yet, I’d like to attempt to give you a few reasons why you might want to give it a try. If you are a solid #4 with zero interest, feel free to check out. I’m not in the business of forcing the issue. If you’re a #5, though, hang in there with me…
Reasons Millennials should consider genealogy as a hobby:
1). Starting early has its benefits. You may be lucky enough to be one of those people who have grandparents living while you’re in your 30s and beyond, but realistically speaking, many people don’t. Though your own mortality may not be on your mind when you’re a healthy 20-something, you know as well as anyone that eventually people get old and eventually people die…and their secrets and the answers to your questions go with them. If you have the opportunity to ask family members (especially older ones) questions, do it now! I am lucky enough that I have one grandmother still living and a grandfather who passed away in 2017 at the age of 97. Even so, I STILL feel that I did not make good on the opportunity to ask him all of the questions I should have. Don’t let this be a regret in your life. Ask the questions now!
2). Records are more accessible than they used to be. Researching your family history does not mean expensive or time consuming trips out of town or hours spent at the library pouring over books anymore. A huge amount of records across the world have been digitized and are accessible at the click of a button. Even better, you can do it from your phone! All of the major genealogy websites have apps now and researching and adding to your family tree is something you can do easily while on the metro, while killing time between classes, or while eating lunch.
3). You can pick up where you left off. Aside from interviewing the living (per reason #1), there’s no deadline when it comes to researching your family tree. Like knitting, genealogy is a hobby that you can pick up anytime and keep working on. Do it in your spare time!
4). It doesn’t have to be expensive. Websites like Ancestry.com let you make family trees and have access to basic records for free. If you do end up wanting to upgrade for a fee, you can but it’s not necessary. In terms of DNA tests, the major websites who sell them consistently go down in price around the holidays. What was once $99 is now $59 and $59 for something you only have to do once really doesn’t seem so bad when you do the math.
5). It can have practical applications to your everyday life. Several DNA testing companies are now offering a health component in addition to the ethnicity estimates. These health reports can tell you if you have certain variants associated with the risk of developing certain disorders or health issues (pair this with your collection of ancestor’s death records and you may see that certain health issues run in the family and may be a good thing to make your doctor aware of at your next physical) and if you are a carrier of certain genetic variants (good to know if you are a Millennial who is considering having children!)
6). It has a social aspect that rivals Facebook. I was surprised when I started my own journey into family history how extremely welcoming, supportive, helpful, and huge the genealogy community on social media (Facebook groups, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, even Pinterest) is. Genealogy absolutely does not have to be something you do alone. This community, more than many I’ve seen, can always be depended on to cheer you on, offer advice, and genuinely be excited for you when you make progress. I’m truly glad I put myself out there and met (either IRL or online) these wonderful folk!
7). It’s fun! Why do it if it’s not fun? While I can’t tell you that you’ll be as excited as I am about new DNA matches popping up in your match list or discovering your great-gandmother’s naturalization papers in a rusty old lockbox a la Amelie, if you already have an inclination towards psychology, science, mysteries, puzzles, stories, or all of the above, I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy this. If you have even have a sliver of the detective or problem solver in you, I don’t need to explain how exciting that moment is when you unearth that photo or document that has been missing or unknown to you and your family before that moment, that an ancestor may have touched or posed for many years ago. It’s the ultimate treasure.
In conclusion, my fellow Millennials, if timing isn’t right right now, I get it. The great thing about family history is that it’s there for the finding and there will always be those of us to help you along if and when you decide to join in. Don’t worry, we’ll leave the
light iPhone on for you.