Genealogical Societies: Remember “Pong”

It’s Hallowe’en, I have the day off and a few hours to catch up on my genealogical newsletter reading.

I belong to a number of societies: five in Canada and one in the United States and they all are experiencing the same problems.

Membership is falling drastically and they have tried many ideas to attract younger members, but still their numbers fall; and when membership falls, so does the amount of incoming assets.  Many blame the Internet, but that’s not it really.  Others accuse the online database giants, but that’s only a part of the problem.

The biggest problem is electronics and technology.  It’s advancing so quickly, many genealogical societies cannot keep up; and as consumers, some of us as individuals are having issues keeping abreast of the latest gadgets, gizmos and apps.

Flashback 40years:  I remember Pong, do you? A white ball (square) bopping all over the telly with a white bar (“paddle”) on each side to hit it back and forth.  If you were good, the ball got smaller, faster and your paddles got shorter!  On the highest speed, your paddles were the size of the ball, and the ball was a blur … it was from Atari

If you are like me, you remember when all telephones were black, the size of a shoe-box with a rotary dial and hanging from the wall. By the time we hit high school, they were (slightly) portable with a tether that was never long enough to reach our bedrooms; so we had to take our calls in the bathroom! And the dial was replaced by a square-set of buttons.

Whenever we went out in public, there were a handful of things we took with us:

  • a wallet (or purse) with identification to prove we were old enough to drive, drink, or be out late after curfew
  • ample money, because it was always a pain to be short on cash, when the banks were closed
  • keys to house and, if you were lucky, the car
  • a couple wallet photos: you and the girlfriend/boyfriend, your baby niece, etc

Later in life, that list changed slightly:

  • pictures of girlfriend(s) were replaced with pictures of wife, kids and grandkids
  • ATM and credit cards access your money 724, but only when the devices are working!
  • and a cellphone was just that — a cellphone

Flashforward to present: Look around you, you find younger people interacting socially through so many forms of electronic media; unlike their parents and/or grandparents with face-to-face social events.

And if they empty their pockets, what will you find?

  • keys
  • a wallet (or purse) with ID, ATM/credit cards and fast food receipts
  • bus passes or tickets

And a cellphone, that is capable of:

  • storing all their wonky music, pictures from last weekend’s parties (& last month’s),
  • accessing their bank accounts online,
  • streaming video and
  • surfing the Internet for anything random.

Their cellphones are like the little black box on a commercial aircraft, (it holds everything!), but these cellphones are also expressive outlets of their owners’ creativity.

The problem for genealogical societies is to market to this “instant generation” and it is extremely difficult to do so.

There are a handful of young genealogists (under the age of 25) interested in genealogy. I have had the privilege to meet many of them over the last few years.

If you seriously want to attract more like them, collect ideas from them — HINT: three still live at my house 🙂 ANOTHER HINT: You’ll find a lot of them in junior high schools!

A couple ideas would be to catalogue your wares and put them online.  Post adverts to your meetings and offer your newsletters online in PDF format. Digitize your local history books and offer them through a members-only section on your society webpage.

Because the only way these young’uns are going to find you is to get your presence known.


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