20 April 2022
Young Genealogists at the Helm: All welcome "10 young people, from five different countries, with some really different takes on the subjects that they’re presenting.” From DNA to identity, the impact of climate change on family history and more.
Collaboration – across organisations and generations - is the name of the game in the upcoming event organised by the Family History Federation & the Society of Genealogists. On 7 May, the forthcoming Young Genealogists at the Helm event will create a platform for young genealogists from around the globe to come together – to share and showcase examples from their research, and to discuss the future of youth involvement in the genealogy scene.
Family Tree editor Helen Tovey caught up with some of the people behind the Young Genealogists at the Helm event in order to learn more. Representing the two event sponsors - Dr Wanda Wyporska, CEO the Society of Genealogists and Dr Janet Few, President of the Family History Federation; and representing the youth participants, Daniel Loftus and George Hall.
The inspiration behind the event
Dr Wanda Wyporska shared some thoughts on the inspiration behind the event: “I took over [as CEO of] the Society of Genealogists in October last year, and I do spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter, which I see as a big part of the job. And I noticed very quickly that there was this real basis of misunderstanding, and this tension, between some of the community - and some of the younger members of the community and some of the more established members of the community.”
Dr Wanda Wyporska, CEO Society of Genealogists: "It seemed to me that there was a real opportunity..."
Seeing the positive potential Wanda reflected that it was essential to have a fuller conversation about the matter: ‘It seemed to me that there was a real opportunity to work with the Family History Federation as one of the leading organisations in the community.”
Wanda explained that she sees the roles of the sponsor organisations (SoG and the Federation) to provide a space to bring people together, and see what younger genealogists want, and see how to support them. “It was really important just to provide that space, and then step back and say: ‘This is over to you. We can provide you with a space. We can provide you with access to people in the community. And you can take it from there.’ … This is an opportunity to pass on that responsibility, and that ability to act, to the next generation - so that people can work together in ways that they want to work together.”
While Wanda, being newer to the world of genealogy is able to bring fresh insights, Dr Janet Few brings a wealth of experience to the conversation, and has been a long-time champion of encouraging children and younger people into genealogy. We asked Janet to share her views:
“It [genealogy for young people] is something that I’ve been trying to promote for decades,” explained Janet. “And it was only when the likes of Daniel and George gave it a head of steam that I feel that we are getting anywhere with it.
Dr Janet Few: "Come along [to the Young Genealogists at the Helm event]! You will learn something!"
“When I was given the honour of being President of the Family History Federation last year, then it seemed an ideal project to take and collaborate between ourselves and the Society of Genealogists.”
The presenters & the programme
Encouragement of the next generation is something that Janet deems vital: “We have to do this. And the programme that we have for the 7th May illustrates that this was the right thing to do: 10 young people, from five different countries, with some really different takes on the subjects that they’re presenting.” From DNA to identity, the impact of climate change on family history and more.
Daniel Loftus: "Genealogy does include the present – the present people…”.
Daniel Loftus will be one such presenter on 7th May, speaking on a topic that is central to the event: ‘Building A Bridge Between Generations’. How do we go about this? We asked Daniel for his thoughts. In his presentation Daniel will be sharing thoughts on the uses of social media for communicating and connecting with others, and providing useful pointers to consider regarding which social media platforms and posts may be most helpful.
“Social media, as annoying as it may be sometimes, if you get picked on, is a blessing in disguise,” enthuses Daniel, “especially with genealogy. I’d say that I know a lot of people now through Twitter, or other forms of social media, but if I didn’t use it, or use it to my advantage, then I’d still be that kid on his laptop thinking: ‘Where do I go from here?’. This is a point that Daniel picked up later in the conversation – that as well as being a platform for sharing information you do know, social media is an ideal place to ask for answers, and helping fellow genealogists. Daniel: “Even if it’s pointing someone as to where to find a record…. Tell them. They’ll thank you for it genuinely.”
The presenters at the event will be covering a wide range of topics. George Hall, another presenter at the event, will be encouraging others who wish to embark on a One-Place Study, having in recent years undertaken such a project himself, and subsequently written a book on the topic. George: “I was very lucky, I had a lot of time over the summer. It was in about June time that unfortunately my grandad’s grave was knocked over by the council. I created a Facebook group, related to Morley Cemetery, and that blossomed into the Friends of Morley Cemetery.”
George Hall: "The actual family history is interesting ... it’s a matter of tailoring it [how you talk about family history] to the individual.”
It was from the establishment of the friends, that George went on to write his book: “For my book, I actually managed to kill two birds with one stone. I had an interest in writing a book for a long time. For my Extended Project Qualification I wanted to do something physical, which I did in creating the book. So I was able to merge part of my school life at Sixth Form alongside a passion of mine.”
George continued: “I think you’ve just got to be wise in managing your time, keeping a positive mind, and if you don’t do something, just keep at it and eventually it will happen.” He advises, for instance, to choose a project in a place that you frequently visit anyway, as a means of maximising the time you have available to work on a project – be that writing a book or transcribing the inscriptions on the memorials in a local graveyard.
As the programme for the Young Genealogists at the Helm reveals, a wide range of approaches and projects will be covered that day from genealogists worldwide. Janet Few urges everyone one, of whatever age to come along: “You will learn something!”.
A new direction for genealogy
“It is certainly noticeable that the young people view their family history in a much more global manner,” considers Janet, “than perhaps we’ve been used to. The interactions are worldwide and the conversations are worldwide – whereas we’ve been a little bit insular, in the past, about what we’re doing.” She adds, laughing: “Long gone are the days when you had to send an International Reply Coupons and an airmail letter to correspond with someone, somewhere overseas.”
Wanda elaborated on the truly global reach and interconnections of today’s researchers: “I think that also the changing demographics of the UK means that many people in the UK are from a range of different backgrounds. I’m tracing my family in Barbados, in Poland, in Devon. So increasingly we have a more diverse range of people who are interested in their family history.”
Of course, the boundaries and border are not simply those of geography. Daniel: “I did a thread on Twitter this morning on gender identities. With LGBTQ people in our community - They did exist and if we don’t record them, if we don’t record people as they are, then I don’t think people are getting the full picture.” Daniel continued: “We’re trying to look at the past, but also genealogy does include the present – the present people…”.
George adds to this sentiment – indicating the broad appeal of family history – but explaining that it is important to let people decide for themselves what form that family history should take: “My friends – the same age as me, 17 or 16 - are all generally interested in family history, they are just not necessarily interested in sitting down and looking at the 1841 Census. So I think there is an interest there; it’s just how you approach it. I think that everyone, from every generation, should consider – the actual family history is interesting, it’s just the research might not be, so it’s a matter of tailoring it [how you talk about family history] to the individual.”
How you can join in
The Young Genealogists at the Helm event is sponsored by the Family History Federation and the Society of Genealogists. It will be held online on 7th May, 8am to 8.15pm UK time (BST).
Everyone, of whatever age, is very welcome to attend the event. To book your place (£1.50) please visit: sog.org.uk/youthconference
Interview with Wanda, Janet, Daniel & George
A 20 minute interview with Family Tree editor Helen Tovey and representatives of the two event sponsors - Dr Wanda Wyporska, CEO the Society of Genealogists and Dr Janet Few, President of the Family History Federation; and representing the youth participants, Daniel Loftus and George Hall. (Please accept apologies for any Covid coughs/splutter interruptions).