11 September 2008

Where are young people's Jewish genealogy awards?

I have always advocated awards for various genealogical achievements, particularly for achievements in non-traditional areas, such as outreach and encouraging young genealogists.

When I read the following release from the Association of Professional Genealogists, I again wondered where Jewish genealogy is in this arena.

APG awarded its first Young Professional Scholarship to high school senior Michael Melendez of Fullerton, California at the APG Professional Management Conference held in Philadelphia on September 3. The award included conference registration and a $500 award toward travel and accommodations.

Awhile back, one of Jewish genealogy's brightest stars, Logan Kleinwaks, asked me why neither Jewish genealogical societies nor the annual international conference on Jewish genealogy ever offered student or young genealogist discounts. I told him sincerely that I believed they should. and I do try to talk this up in every possible venue.

Logan is right.

Just the idea that the established community is trying to interest younger people may encourage interest in our obsession. I also advocate high school and even junior high school awards sponsored by local Jewish genealogical societies, with state, regional and international winners climbing the ladder with an award to the annual conference.

Such awards can be given for a younger person's personal achievement, for major contributions to Jewish genealogy in technological fields and in other "thinking out of the box" areas. Highlighting younger genealogists - there are already several active in Jewish genealogy in areas such as technology and DNA - will attract younger people.

As societies - including Jewish genealogical societies - complain about declining memberships and attendance, there is still resistance to outreach, which I simply don't understand.

We moan that there are no for-credit Jewish genealogical courses anywhere and that, generally speaking, genealogy is not considered a mainstream academic study (a few minor exceptions), we are missing an opportunity. Seniors receiving these awards and spotlighting the honor when applying to colleges send notice to higher education admission offices that genealogy is now something to be recognized and rewarded. It sends a message that genealogy is not only for old folks looking for even older folks.

Our young people are so competent in technology - much more advanced than we will ever be - why aren't we encouraging them to put their talents and creativity to family history research?

The more awards that schools see on the transcripts of bright students applying for excellent schools could mean that genealogy may find itself creeping up the academic ladder. Informing Judaic studies departments at schools that such awards exist will increase awareness. Perhaps a student receiving a genealogy achievement award and attending one of those school might eventually be responsible for a course or two or even an entire program.

Jewish genealogy in general can't afford to ignore the possibilities. Aging demographics and declining numbers make outreach imperative for our societies.

Melendez, a senior at Troy Hill High School in Fullerton, already has a long resume of genealogical achievements. He performed a 150 hour internship at the Orange Regional Family History Center in California. He completed the Staff Training Program and is currently a staff member at the center.

He is also a member of the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Youth Committee as well as the Future Genealogists Society. As part of his Eagle Scout project, Melendez put on a Beginners Family History Jamboree.

Why isn't the Jewish genealogy community organizing similar programs? I'd like to hear from Tracing the Tribe readers who understand why this should be the wave of the future. If you have ideas on organizing such a program, let me know.

One person cannot do this alone; a core group of people who think along the same lines is needed to go forward with such a project.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Agreed. While many schools assign projects to identify ancestors, the scope addresses vital statistics only. Rarely discussed is how the culture and/or economics affected the family.

    Schelly gave a presentation while she visited Seattle this summer. We were talking about the need for oral histories and how to conduct them.

    One person suggested that we interview ourself! What a different and unique way to involve your child or grandchild by letting him or her know some of the issues that were important to you while growing up.

    Lyn Blyden
    President JGSWS in Seattle WA