Genealogy is the Game

I keep hearing the statement that a game is going to pull a younger generation into genealogy. We don’t need a game. Genealogy is the game. The problem is that nobody has invented the plastic Little Tikes hoop.


In the U.S., basketball is a sport that is wildly popular. The NBA consists of elite players who have mastered the game over a lifetime of practice. Players and coaches have devoted their lives to the study of the game’s strategy and technique.

My kids, ages 1 to 6, love to play basketball. They have fantastic technique in dribbling the ball, in the form of their shots, and in the plays that they run. Our dinner table conversations often revolve around the team trades that they are planning in order to win the next big title. No, my kids aren’t crazy. And no, they don’t do any of the above. Their version of the game only remotely resembles the NBA game.

My kids play “basketball” on a plastic Little Tikes hoop that sits in Zeke’s room. When we play 1 on 1, Zeke rarely dribbles the ball. We foul each other like crazy, and goal-tending is a regular part of the game. Zeke’s best move is a running dunk followed by a quick rebound and another dunk, scoring twice in one possession. We love to pull trick moves such as bouncing the ball off of the wall or stuffing the ball in our shirts in order to sneak it to the hoop.

Imagine that same basketball game between Zeke and I, played on a full-sized NBA court, with their full-sized hoops, and a full-sized ball. The equipment alone would prohibit a meaningful experience. Zeke could not dunk the ball. Neither of us could goal-tend. And Zeke would be lucky to get the ball all the way up to the 10 foot hoop. The ball would be too big to stuff in our shirts, and the game would be no fun.

Let’s take it a step further. Let’s add referees to the game. The game would stop every time Zeke travels, double dribbles, fouls, or throws the ball out of bounds. The game would be so constipated that there would be zero enjoyment in the game. The game would be “boring.”

Genealogy is a great game. But, we will never bring the young kids into the game if we require that they play with full-sized equipment and that they play by “the rules”. We need someone to invent the Little Tikes hoop.

What would the Little Tikes genealogy hoop look like? How would people play differently? Please leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “Genealogy is the Game”

  1. Interesting idea. Either a place is needed for those learning the game or people are allowed to come enjoy the fun knowing they’ll make rookie mistakes. I wonder if the game of genealogy could come with an increasing set of challenges that help them along the way. The early challenges are fun but low impact on more seasoned players playing in the same space.

  2. I’m a genealogist by profession working in the department and I’ve noticed that as we have made the website more user friendly, the key to engaging the beginner to heart turning experiences is to introduce a document that MEANS something to the beginner. The 1940 Census has opened up the world for my sister (who said she hated the idea of genealogy and wanted to poke her eyes out before doing my job aka a “beginner”). I showed her our grandparents in the 1940 census and it changed everything. Then, I showed her that new cool feature that with a click of the button searches the person on the tree in all the records on FamilySearch and we found more records. After a bit she hit a wall and couldn’t find anything else. So i gave her just a few tips on searching the website and bam! She found more information. Afterwards, she told me she was interested because it was like a mystery she was trying to solve. I’ve found the “hunting” for records containing your ancestors does turn hearts!

  3. I’ll keep the sports analogy going. My kids have played soccer on and off over the years. The 5-6 years olds are hilarious to watch–they just follow the ball around the field in a little swarm. The rules are slightly different for that age group as well. For example, the coaches are allowed to be on the field with the players. As the kids get older and more coordinated, they start to play positions and work as a team. The coach plays a pivotal role in how much fun the game is and how successful the players are. I think the same is true for genealogy, The “coach” can make or break the “game.” Danielle’s comment is a great example of how good coaching can bring a person along as their readiness to learn and playing skills increase. So, a key part of helping the younger generation to “get in the game” has to be the effectiveness of the genealogy “coaches.”

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