For several years, I’ve gradually been compiling information about my family history. What began as a desire to verify a couple of handed-down stories has become a full-fledged hobby. My online family tree includes names that date back hundreds of years, and the pursuit of information has led to unexpected connections with people who live all over the world. After all this time, it’s still personally moving to discover a new-to-me photo of an ancestor or a record that finally confirms a detail of a family member’s life.Genealogy and funeral service share important common threads: Both involve building and enhancing family connections and ensuring lives are not forgotten. Because of this, hosting a genealogy-related event at your funeral home can help people in the community form relationships with your funeral home and become advocates for the value you provide. This type of event can also build community pride and allow you to share how your firm has been part of families’ traditions over the years.
Team up with local historians and genealogical organizations.
To gauge (and generate) interest in the event, reach out to local clubs and organizations that may share your interest. Your area’s historical societies and genealogical institutions are good places to start. Keep in mind that groups may also exist online or through other institutions such as your local library. Do research to ensure anyone who could facilitate or attend the event has an opportunity to be involved.
In addition to asking for involvement from local genealogy groups, consider people in your community who could serve as guest speakers at your event. Many communities have (official or unofficial) historians who can provide stories about the families who helped establish the area. Ask your local library if any of their staff members can provide a presentation about how to get started with family research.
Facilitate access to community history resources.
In order to successfully research family history, attendees will need access to records. Your local library, historical society or museum may be willing to work with you to bring resources to your event or to offer personal assistance to attendees.
Don’t forget to share online resources that are available to help families research their histories after the event. I’ve found ancestry.com, familysearch.org, usgenweb.org and findagrave.com to be particularly helpful resources when conducting family history research online. Compile a list of suggested local and online resources and create a printed handout (with your funeral home logo and contact information) that attendees can reference after the event.
As an additional incentive to attend the event, consider offering a prize drawing for genealogy services. Some online resources require payment to access certain records or for related services that may be of interest to attendees, and you could provide a gift card prize to help attendees begin (or continue) their research.
Provide tours of (or information about) local cemeteries.
Cemeteries play an important role in compiling family history. Monuments can help people confirm information about their ancestors, and it’s meaningful to be able to see physical memorials for family members.
Consider how nearby cemeteries can be part of your firm’s genealogy event, whether you offer a tour or simply have a representative from the cemetery give a presentation about local dignitaries and notable families who are interred there. If you choose to host a tour, ask attendees to specify in advance if they are looking for information about particular people who may be interred at the cemetery. Imagine what a powerful impression you could make on a person by helping him or her find the final resting place of an ancestor.
Offer opportunities to document history.
Conducting research is just the first step in compiling family history – people also need a way to document the information they find or catalogue the documents they already have. Your funeral home could conduct a workshop to help people build family tree albums, family history books or scrapbooks, which they’ll be able to keep and eventually pass down to future generations.
You might even consider hosting a family-oriented event that encourages people to compile not just the stories of ancestors from the past, but also living relatives. By doing so, you’d be laying the foundation for important conversations about how individuals would like to be remembered by their loved ones.
As with any community event your firm hosts, be sure to provide a survey for attendees. The feedback you gain will be valuable in planning future events, and you’ll have an opportunity to follow up to continue building meaningful connections.