Digital Family History as understood by Digital Natives with 500 IRL Facebook friends

Maiden Aunt w iPod It’s not the same thing as what Ye Olde Maiden Aunt used to collect and curate. An intriguing article by fellow Association of Personal Historians member Jane Lehman-Shafron, she notes the current trends (look! TV shows! Newspaper articles!), but also points out how family history in digital form is being used by the next generation, the Digital Natives who grow up immersed in computing technology.

The form that family history is taking changes with the times. 

Today’s younger generations are more interested in family history than ever before. The whole country is. But they are demanding that those maiden aunts (and all the rest of us who fulfill the function of “family historian”) get with the times. They want their family history accessible and they want it compelling.

Speaking as the


single Aunt whose spent a lot of time in the technology industry—I’m even called AuntiAlias—it’s a computer graphic pun (know what anti-aliasing is?), I’m one of those Aunts who is pushing everyone forward in digital pursuits when it comes to family history.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You gotta use digital tools to preserve your family’s history. I’ve said it so many times before. I’ll say it again, too. But this post isn’t about that.

What I like is the way that Lehman-Shafron draws the picture of how digitized family history is used. By the 500 Facebook friends (in real life) generation. Me—I’m thrilled to get back in touch with my best friend from elementary school. But those growing up never lose touch with their friends.

And what do they have on their computers? Their family history.

Emma Szafranowycz is an example of this new breed of youngster. Age 21 and half-way through her college degree, she is typical of her friends in being addicted to her cell phone and her iPod and her laptop. […] As her name suggests, Emma’s family origins lie in Europe. And among the endless files that Emma keeps on her laptop, she also has the results of family history research carried out within her family. She has old photographs and old documents and a written history of her grandfather - she has the last words he wrote before he died. She also has a family history video about her grandfather and a slideshow of her grandmother that was prepared for her funeral service.

So, why should you digitize family history? Or oral histories that used to be on tapes, but are now on an iPod? So those who are digital natives can be in touch with the past as easily as they stay in touch with their 500 Facebook friends.

When Emma was at the gym recently she listened on her iPod to audio recordings of her grandfather’s voice talking about his difficult life in Europe and his journey of immigration (he had died more than 10 years ago and his story had been recorded to audio tapes then digitized).

Emma is not that unusual. The next generation are getting in touch with their ancestors and staying in touch with them with a freedom and in a way unimagined a decade ago. It is not so much that this new breed is especially family history minded - it is just that they are especially computer literate. [Read More]

So take it from this AuntiAlias who talks of the how-to for capturing and preserving your history using digital tools. You’re passing on history for the next generations. Don’t be surprised at the way those digital natives use the digitized history you’ve given them.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 26, 2010 in • DigitalityGenealogyPersonal History
1 CommentsPermalink

« Previous Interviewing Family: Why not Why? | Interviewing Family: What Should I Ask? Major Life Events Next »


Thanks for picking up my article - I love your photoshop addition - grandma with the ipod!  I’m glad you corrected me - single aunt is a better description! Yes, technology is making the work of a personal historian so exciting! 

Jane Lehmann-Shafron  on 05/26  at  04:31 PM

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