Friday, October 9, 2015

Is Your Genealogy Remarkable?

If people talk about what you're doing, it's remarkable, by definition.
                                                                               Seth Godin 

If you ever talk to others about genealogy, you have undoubtedly been party to a MEGO encounter. You know, that point in the middle of rehearsing your great-great-grandmother's lineage when it suddenly hits you that you've just lost your audience.

From your listener's perspective, it's "My Eyes Glaze Over." And whoever that captive audience was, he or she makes a note to self to never, ever get caught enduring that kind of monologue again.

The opposite is what we dream ofno, covet, if we're honest with ourselves. We want people to take note of all our research. To awaken to the delights of this genealogical pursuit. Instead of "My Eyes Glaze Over," we hope for "My Eyes Light Up."

Whatever it is, we want others to be smitten with this fascinating enterprise. To get bitten by the bug. To become True Believers, just like we are.

What we really hope to see, as Seth Godin might have put it, is that our genealogy becomes remarkable. Not just different. Not perfectly executed and beautifully presented. But remarkable. It is not until our story connects with our listener's interests that we can witness that transformation. And that transformation has to happen in our audience, not just in the message, or even in the messenger. Possibilities need to open up in that person's mindapplication to that person's own situation.

Think about the times when your family history stories resonate with your listeners. It isn't often that people's ears perk up to hear that you've worked your maternal line back twelve generations. Although being able to claim connection to royalty might snag some attention, that, too, would likely be fleeting. It is when you can demonstrate connections of interest to your listener that you'll receive that coveted award of audience attention.

And what are people interested in the most? Me. You know, the center of the universe, around which all things revolve.

Can you blame them? After all, don't we do the same thing, ourselves? It's likely that the same things that inspire you to spare the time and listen to someone else's conversation are the very things that motivate others to pay attention to you. And your stories of family history.

I always love hearing how others share those stories for which we've researched so diligently and worked so hard to find and preserve. I appreciated learning about how various bloggers like Jana Last and Heather Wilkinson Rojo have shared about converting their online reports to book form. I loved it when one genealogistKay Speaks, speaking at our local genealogical society meeting—revealed how she coaxed that fascination level from her young nieces and nephews by posting short family vignettes on her Facebook page, knowing the rest of the family would read those notes. The predictable result: they clamored for more.

It's the personal angle that draws people in. What did great-grandpa really look like as a teenager? Was it true that great-grandma was a flapper? Which one of my ancestors looked the most like me?

It's not that we need to portray ancestors as if they were famous—although even mentioning that an ancestor was present at Appomattox or survived D-Day might pique someone's curiosity to ask for more—but we do need to be prepared to share the stories.

After all, we do want our friends and family to remark on our genealogical discoveries. It's just that we'll contribute more to the ongoing process of preserving our families' stories if that remarkableness is owing to "My Eyes Light Up" than to "My Eyes Glaze Over."   

Above: "Divided Attention," oil on canvas circa 1893 by British artist William Hemsley; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.



  1. I enjoyed this read very much. Recently, while I was overseas, my granddaughter had a family history project. Knowing I was not available, my son directed her to my blog. She found her information there.

    1. Now, there's a story to share, over and over, Margie! I am so sold on blogging our family history, and this is one more example of its benefits. Thanks so much for sharing that!

  2. I think it takes special people to delve into their own family history...not everyone likes the research...or the small piece by piece breakthroughs:)

    1. When it comes to genealogy, it seems there is no "meh" middle ground, Far Side. Either people couldn't be bothered with it, or they seem to fall in love with the chase, the discoveries, and the history.

  3. Some people just won't "engage" no matter what - one would think the history of say, one's home town for long time residents would be "interesting" but somehow it isn't to many. Connection is only part of it... it has to resonate somehow... I recently attended a presentation of an early preacher's "rules for children" in which he listed 100 or so rules that (German) children (in 1670-1690) were expected to live by... Many of the rules are relevant today - but sadly not known\followed.

    I could see the parents and teachers in the audience engage to the talk when the presentation covered a rule and they disengaged when the presentation talked about the author of the rules and even more so when it covered the life of the man that translated them to English.

    1. "Resonate" is a good way of putting it, Iggy. That's why the stories are so important. People can relate to people, but they need a reason why.


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