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Gaming for genealogy: Helping bring genealogy to a digital generation

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 2:13 p.m. MST

D. Joshua Taylor thinks using gaming with genealogy can make traditional research and documents "come alive."

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People often consider family history and genealogy to be more popular among an older generation, but D. Joshua Taylor believes there may be a way to change this thinking.

Taylor, president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the data strategy manager for findmypast.com, told RootsTech conference attendees on Feb. 6 that he thinks this gap can be bridged by something young people are already doing: gaming.

According to Taylor, gaming has the potential to cross the age and interest gap in genealogy and can show people that family history is about more than just names and dates.

"It will really make family history 'come alive,' if you will," Taylor said.

Taylor highlighted several ways gaming is similar to family history.

Like family history, gaming takes people to "another world" or something outside their present reality. Similarly, gaming and family history both have an element of learning and discovery.

Also like gaming, genealogists are often community centered. Taylor mentioned that genealogists index, help others learn, network and attend conferences — all together.

“If you look at genealogists at all, we’re one of the most generous groups of people with our time. … We like to build communities,” he said.

Games are often rooted in building communities and building friendships, even though they can be based in the virtual world.

Taylor also said there is at least one way in which family history and genealogy are significantly different. Taylor said to keep up interest, a gamer must be able to have an end point where they "beat the game." Family history work, on the other hand, is never really done.

However, even if a gamer completes a game, there can always be the opportunity to begin another game.

One of Taylor's most compelling arguments for introducing gaming to genealogy was that current family history methods need to speak to a “new generation of genealogists.” The upcoming generation has been involved in the digital world since birth, and many of them have hardly any experience with physical records.

“We have to build genealogy for a generation that’s never gone into a library, never gone to a courthouse,” he said.

Another argument in favor of gaming's potential is that games could increase the perceived interaction between the historian and the ancestor. The connection between people and records can be difficult for some researchers to establish, especially when they are young. A game would give historians a seemingly real interaction with past people, events and places.

Taylor also discussed adapting games to help record our "living memory."

“The millenials will probably write about themselves more than any other generation,” he said. However, he then said they will do so through tweets and Facebook statuses, instead of journals.

He cautioned that unless people find a way to capture that living memory, it will be lost. Taylor suggested gaming could be a way to record personal histories without it seeming like a formal interview or something on a to-do list.

“You can get a lot of information from someone when you don’t tell someone you’re doing a family history interview,” he said.

Alison Moore is a writer for the Faith and Family sections at DeseretNews.com. She is studying journalism and editing at Brigham Young University. EMAIL: amoore@deseretdigital.com

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