Are you a member of a historical or genealogical society that would like to attract more younger people and families to your ranks? Would your society like to become more visible within the community at large? If the answers are 'yes,' this blog post is all about some suggestions to help your society accomplish these goals.
The first step in attracting more families (parents and minor children) to your society is actually WANTING to do so. If not enough people within your group are on-board and willing to contribute their time and talent, then it will never happen. Form a committee within your society and then perhaps even sub-committees for specific tasks or events. Some of the suggestions I list below may take a considerable amount of crowd-sourcing from within your ranks, but I promise you the payoffs can be great!
Sponsoring Family-Friendly Events: Does your society periodically offer free Open Houses for prospective members? If not, consider doing so once or twice a year, and make it child-friendly in the process. If you are a member of a society with no physical location, most public libraries offer rooms that can be reserved for free with just a library card. Or better yet, have some members man a meet-and-greet table at a local Farmer's Market, Community Night Out or County Fair.
Now, HOW would you make an open house or meet-and-greet table child-friendly? What about featuring a 'Technology and Tools of the Past' theme? Probably just from digging around in their basements, your members could bring in old telephones, record players, typewriters, and even old computers for kids to look at, touch (yes, I said touch), and learn about. And, with supervision, kids could examine old household things like washtubs and washboards, old glass medicine and milk bottles, metal milk cans, maybe an old cast iron pressing iron or an old Kirby vacuum cleaner. Or perhaps dig up some old toys from your childhood or your kids' childhoods and have an 'old toy' table for kids to explore. (Remember that 'old' to today's kids is not necessarily that old at all - even stuff from the 70s and 80s is fascinating to young children today.) Find some things that would interest the kids for a few minutes, and at the same time, you can talk with their parents or grandparents about the goals and mission of your group.
Your society may already have members of local battle reenactment groups. What about holding an open house during which a mini-reenactment is featured? Or have some of your members dress up in period attire and tell visitors about what life is like on their local farm in the 1860s? Events like these are wonderful for public relations, especially if you were to bring the character actors to a farmer's market or county fair table, where there are already a lot of families passing through.
If the open houses and table meets go well, consider sponsoring regular family-oriented programs in your community. Research Colonial-American or Pioneer toys and games and invite kids from the community to come play and learn about them. Hold a square-dancing workshop for kids and their parents - maybe even in a local historical barn (how fun would that be!). Hold a Halloween storytelling session and share local ghost stories in front of a bonfire or even just have a trick-or-treating event at a local historical museum. Design the activities around your area's local history and cultural heritage. I suggest always making family programs FREE, which isn't difficult to accomplish if you crowd-source for materials and talent among members AND partner with other local groups. (see below)
Partner With Other Local Groups: Does your genealogical society maintain an open communication with your local historical society and vice versa? Has your society ever thought of reaching out to scouting groups or other local ethnic heritage groups and sponsor community events with them? Holding joint events is a win-win situation for both groups and for the community at-large. Get in on a cemetery clean-up with a local scouting troop. Co-sponsor a German Heritage Day with the German-American club in your area. Reach out to local high school history teachers and offer to send members into the classroom to talk about local history. If your local high school has a Junior ROTC program, contact them and plan a Veterans Day commemoration with them. Make a banner and walk in local parades (even better if you're in period costume!) Get your name and faces out in the community where young people and their parents can see you!
Offer Free Child Care during Member Meetings: Yes, you read that correctly. Lots of churches do this these days, so that parents can attend Bible studies and other meetings. It's not difficult to arrange. All you need are a couple of volunteers to watch the children, some toys to keep them busy, and a room that is separate, but nearby, to the main meeting room where the kids can play. Even my small-town library has adjoining rooms that can be reserved by anyone at no charge.
Today's families are busier than even, but that does not necessarily mean we have no interest in preserving local and family histories. SHOW us that we and our children are integral parts to your mission of preserving and educating the community about local history. Even just simple acts of family-oriented outreach will make a positive impression on parents and children who see you out-and-about in the community, and you will be building a legacy for the continuation of your society in the future.
"Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression." - Dr. Haim Ginott
"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." - Neil Postman
©2015, Emily Kowalski Schroeder