Who wants to know about their family history?

A post from Ancestry.com about how little Americans in general know about their family history has surprised me. In summary, the results are:

  • Most 18- to 34–years-old Americans (83%) are interested in learning their family history. For older age groups the percentages were increasingly smaller.
  • Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.
  • One in five Americans don’t know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.
  • One in five Americans don’t know where their family lived before they came to America.
  • Four out of five Americans say they are interested in learning more about their family history, and yet half have never tried.

Source: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle, Ancestry.com, 7 Dec 2007.

I wonder what the results of such a survey would be in Australia? I suspect they would be much the same. I think the biggest surprise for me is the number of young people interested in their family history. That four out of five under-35s are interested in knowing more about their ancestors came as a bit of a shock. After all, these are not the people you see in family history societies and libraries.

How can we share what we know about our family history with the younger members of our own families? How can we make it interesting for them?

I don’t think kids will be interested if we show them the things that we get excited about – certificates and mentions of our ancestors in newspapers and the like. They like stories. I tell my nieces stories about individuals – about their great-great-grandmother Margaret who went from Scotland to New Zealand with her family when she was four years old to settle in the new town of Auckland, and went on to marry a man who had kids already by a first marriage and died when he was only 46, leaving her with her own kids and his too. And I ask them to imagine what it must have been like for her, as a four-year-old, to travel on a sailing ship for months to the other side of the world and live in what must have looked like a wild west town – dirt streets and horses and all.

Kids need to be involved, and all of this age group are much more accepting of new technology. Not just accepting, but expecting! They expect the internet to work like we expect the phone to work. Put it to use!

  • You could get them to create a family tree on Ancestry or FindMyPast or GenesReunited or one of the many other websites available for this purpose.
  • You can show them what is available on the web and how it can help build up a picture of the ancestor in question.
  • You can give them copies of photos of their ancestors and get them to upload them and link them to their family tree.
  • They could then print out a chart of their ancestors, complete with photos. They might be inspired to hunt for missing ones!
  • You could put them in touch with distant cousins and show them how they are related.

The possibilities are endless. Young adults could also be more involved by handling the web side, copying photos and hunting out more information.

And what about you? Do you know what your grandfathers did, or still do, for a living?

Do you know where your family (or families) lived before they came to Australia?

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? Especially on the female side?

Do you know which of your younger relatives might be interested in the work you are doing in your own family history?

There is so much to learn, and so little time. The younger we start, the more time we will have, and the more we can build and what has been done before. It’s not just a hobby for the retired!


  1. Hi Carole, nice work on your blog here. I have a genealogy site as well and maybe we can advise each other from time to time?.
    I posted recently about the amount of info that is available via the State registries of BDM’s in Australia, for free, as opposed to those of the UK and elsewhere. You have to pay a fee to access their databases yet the Australian equivalent provides free access to theirs. Australian genealogists have a great advantage there when they are initially starting out.
    Anyway, you can check out my post here http://www.hamiltonfamilyhistory.com/?p=29 and let me know if you agree with me.
    Keep up the good work !

  2. Thanks Wendy, it’s great to hear from you. I’ve been meaning to finish a draft on Australian BDM indexes I started a while ago and you’ve inspired me to finish it. In the meantime:

    NSW and QLD have free BDM indexes on the web but the other States do not to my knowledge.

    VIC requires payment for search results – 99cents per page – minimal, I admit, but it can run into some money if you’re not careful. Once you find the one you want, though, you can download a digital image of the page in the registry book immediately for a much lower cost than the certified copy available from the NSW BDM Registry. Brilliant.

    For the other States there are CDs and microfiche published by Macbeth and available to buy and in many libraries and family history societies, and for TAS there are pre-1900 microfilm indexes and actual records, also available in many libraries.

    Cheers, Carole