I am going to address the absence of the 30-45 year old demographic from genealogical and historical societies. I KNOW there are more than a few people in this demographic who have a genuine interest in history and discovering where they came from. However, we are a busy, busy lot. We are getting married and raising children. We are in the midst of our careers and still trying to advance to the next levels in our jobs, which often means long hours at the office and/or having to cope with a partner working long hours at the office. Any "free" time is usually spent scrounging up meals and carting the kids to school and various other extra-curricular activities.
Does that mean, if I am a membership chair or programming director with a genealogical or historical society, that I should not even try to recruit people within this demographic? Absolutely not, but successfully doing so may mean having to offer different types of programs that are completely new to your society. It will mean designing programs around children.
When a child expresses a genuine interest in something, whether it be a sport, hobby, or academic subject, most caring, supportive parents at least attempt to understand and observe, if not participate in that activity with the child. And, in turn, parents learn from their children. The simple fact that my child loves something, and is curious and/or passionate about something - that is more than enough reason for me to educate myself about it. Before I had my son, I couldn't have told you the difference between an excavator and a back hoe. But, after looking through every construction vehicle-related book at our local library, I am now a bit of an expert in heavy road machinery. Likewise, you wouldn't believe how many dads out there know the name of every single Disney princess and what color dress she wears. Why? - because it is important to their daughters.
Why shouldn't it be the same for family history? All it takes is one engaging story to spark a child's interest in genealogy. They start to ask their parents more questions about the family and want to hear more stories. Maybe the parents will start to wonder, too, and will want to learn more. Then the parents may start asking questions of their parents and other family elders, building an informal family account before it is too late. Just imagine how beneficial it could be to the field of genealogy to spark the interest of these young parents, who are truly the connection between the future of their family and its past.
So, how do you get the parents to BRING their children to a society program? For starters, it MUST be held on a weekend. I can tell you from experience that some weekday evenings are so busy with homework and sports and scout meetings that I feel like I might miss something important if I stop to breathe. Weekends can be busy, too, but you have a much better chance of families attending a program if you schedule it on the weekend. Secondly, it obviously has to be geared towards children, preferably incorporating hands-on and/or storytelling methods of 'presentation.' (I don't even like using the word presentation when it comes to children. Interaction would be a better choice.) Make it funny, make it engaging, make it short - kids don't have big attention spans. And finally, it needs to be low-cost or free. I know so many societies struggle with finances and making ends meet, but trust me, regular low-cost children's programming will not only improve your society's image within the community-at-large, but it WILL pay off in an increase in membership.
It may not happen immediately. There is a saying that people throw at new sleep-deprived parents: "The days are long, but the years are short." It's not something you want to hear when baby won't go to sleep, but, now that my kids are ages four and six, I am beginning to understand how quickly kids grow up, and how soon they lose their dependence on their parents. Those parents who perhaps brought their kids to your programs a few years ago may find themselves with extra non-kid time sooner than they think. And those programs they attended with their kids, though tucked back in their memories, may have awakened an interest in history and/or genealogy that they did not have before. They may look into joining a society, and it will happen years before they would have otherwise (if at all).
I'm not going to guarantee all your current society members will agree with a new emphasis on children's programming. You will very likely encounter resistance from traditionalists who would like to see the group's resources go to more adult-based educational programming or research materials. But you must try to convince them to look towards the future, to have a view of the society beyond their years.
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder.