At the AASLH Annual Meeting this past week, we held an Educators and Interpreters breakfast where the topic was genealogy and education programming.  What came out of that breakfast was this:  We have a lot to discuss on this topic.  Below is a post I wrote the the AASLH conference blog.  We promised at the breakfast that we’d start an online discussion on this, so here we go!

I want to share some food for thought that came out of this morning’s Educators and Interpreters Breakfast Roundtable.  With the annual meeting theme being Crossroads: Exploring Vibrant Connections Between People and Place, and its location in Salt Lake City, we thought a session on genealogy would be most appropriate.

We asked Craig Foster of FamilySearch to talk about the wide array of resources available in Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, and in their amazing web resource,

We also wanted to talk about how genealogy can be used to connect our audiences with personal and local history. We started the session by talking about the personal meaning behind knowing one’s family roots.  Craig shared a chart that traces the family relationship between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  As it turns out, they are 20thcousins, twice removed.  So, what does that mean?  What role does genealogy play in our understanding of who we are, as members of our community, as Americans, and world citizens? Learning family ties clearly means something – but what? And how does it help us make meaning of our history and of our world?

Craig discussed how we can use history – particularly local history – to engage audiences of all ages. However, before we rush in and start planning genealogy programs and activities, we need to be aware of potential issues we may face.

On the surface, leading visitors and school groups through family tree activities seems harmless enough.  But what happens when your visitors learn something they didn’t expect or didn’t want to know, like illegitimacy or criminal backgrounds? How do we handle the obstacles of African American genealogy when dead ends due to slavery arise? Michelle Moon, Assistant Director of Adult Programs and the Peabody Essex Museum, suggested that even schools are shying away from family tree activities: “Family structure – even that of the nuclear family and one to two generations back – is often quite fraught, and that the diversity of family types and styles begins to introduce a level of discussion that we have to be fully prepared to manage.”

So, what do we do?  We ended the session with table discussions about opportunities and challenges for museum genealogy programming.  We are just starting this discussion. What are your thoughts on this topic?  Or, how have you successfully engaged in family research activities with your visitors?