We all knew that I think that stories of the heart are the future of family history, but I have some good company. Steve Rockwood, CEO of FamilySearch International emphasized that in his opening keynote for Rootstech.
Serious genealogists made up the majority of the 12,000 in-person audience. (Estimates including online audience range up to 125,000.) “To get and keep non-genealogists’ attention,” Rockwell explained, “you have to focus on the person, not records.” He also emphasized that stories need to be short and meaningful–stories of the heart.
Stories of the Heart, Surgery, and Neckties
Rockwell illustrated his point with a moving story of how getting to know the personality instead of a name, opened the door for him to connect with an actual heart specialist. As a boy, Rockwell needed heart surgery. Like a lot of young kids, he found doctors off-putting, if not downright scary. Luckily, his heart surgeon wore a funny a tie. To a child’s mind, anyone wearing a funny tie was probably okay. That tie—that personality—made made his doctor more approachable.
Of course, he tied that thought up nicely: “Stories are funny ties that will get the younger generation to listen and will deepen family ties.”
The concept that stories of the heart matter to family history is both pervasive and ignored throughout the conference. Across the board, keynotes, organizers, and attendees acknowledge storytelling as the gateway through which newbie come to the family history pastime. Likewise, there’s a lot of interest in the telling of ancestor stories and moments of discovery.
What’s often missing among the family history crowd: The urge to tell personal stories and memories. To have the root of the family tree use the connective power of storytelling to make that family tree the approachable and huggable.
But, it’s coming. Paula Williams Madison moved the audience with her personal story of searching for her grandfather. Stories of the heart go beyond connecting and documenting. By finding her mother’s family, she said, “My mother was claimed.” Her own journey was somehow also her mother’s journey.
Just like our stories.
Have a funny tie you want to share with some young ‘uns?