In Genealogy Skip the Heavy Hand and Opt for the Lighter Touch
Almost everyone I encounter who has a determined love of genealogy and family history, at one point or another, comments on the ‘need’ to get the younger generation involved in genealogy.
In thinking about this need, I have come to believe two things. First, this most likely comes from a deeply personal place within each individual. Since we all sincerely love our genealogy and have invested both money and time heavily in our pursuit and gained some wonderful and often life altering discoveries, we don’t want our efforts to ‘end’ with us. Second, while we may feel an overwhelming need to get others involved or to take over our genealogy work, we need to abandon the oft used heavy handed approach and work instead with a much lighter touch.
Thinking back on our decisions to become serious about your genealogy and family history I am willing to bet that like mine yours did not strike like a bolt of lightning early in life. I suppose there are some who say they loved genealogy from their earliest days and have been working on it since they were knee high to a grasshopper. But for the far greater percentage of us this was not the case. We came upon our love far more gently and slowly.
Evidence of this is the simple fact that I have never encountered anyone in genealogy and family history who has ever said “Boy, I sure am glad I listened to every story ever told by my family elders all my life and asked them every genealogy and family history question I could.” Rather, everyone I have ever worked with looks back wistfully and says ‘Boy, I sure wish I had listened more closely to my family’s stories’ and ‘Oh, how I wish I had just 15 minutes with my grandmother, grandfather, etc. to ask them a couple of questions.’
Now, given the loss we all feel with the fact that we did not listen to all those family stories with a ‘genealogical ear’ or ask all the questions we now have, it is natural to want to impress some of our non-genealogical family members with the urgency to do what we did not. But here I ask you again to think back on your life and if you pursued your family history 24/7 365 days a year? No, I bet life got in the way. There were times other things in life took precedent. There were times when we simply cared about other things in our lives more than working on a family tree. Our interest may have simply waned at times as well. The gaps in our genealogy work have at times been brief, at other times quite long and extended.
Skip the Heavy Hand and Opt for the Light Touch
My grandmother loved to use the expression ‘you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar’. With this in mind I came to realize early in my genealogy work that while I might not be using honey and vinegar, I needed to put the heavy handed approach to genealogy away and opt for a much finer, lighter touch when working with others. The hammer, like vinegar, chased far more folks away than attracted them. On the other hand, like honey, taking a far lighter to our family genealogy worked far better at gathering new fans within our family tree.
I admit I often find myself fighting this, but time and again it proves its worth.
Indeed, I always reach out to any new potential partner in our genealogy immediately and as personally as I can (if I can call, I call. Email is second, Social Media next, and Snail Mail occupies the end of the line.) After my initial use of the ‘hammer’, I put it away and take my lead from whomever I am trying to work with.
While we may be rabid at the opportunity to learn something new from this potential partner, nine times out of 10, we don’t have the faintest idea of what they might be dealing with in their lives at the time we reach out. That is why it is imperative that we tread lightly, slowly, and at the pace offered and suggested by the other party to this equation.
Yes, the wait might be excruciating, but wait we must. We know how we feel, we do not know how the other party feels at the time of our contact. They may simply need some time to process our request and information or they may be in the midst of some major life-altering event.
Over and over again, I have seen heartwarming and incredibly valuable input and true, long lasting connection to our genealogy and family history simply by waiting. Days, weeks, months, maybe years later in comes the letter, the return phone call, the email that signals that, yes, the time is now right and I am ready, willing, and able to get involved!
Conscription to our cause never results in very long lasting partnerships. Then again, neither does the laying on of a guilt-trip, nor demanding participation due to some religious orientation if you participate in that.
We need to set the table, prepare the feast well, and then sit back and as hard as it may be, wait for our guests to arrive. When they do arrive be prepared that in all likelihood they will stay at the table well past dessert and coffee! And, after all, isn’t that exactly what we all want?
Onward To Our Past®