Genealogy in Time magazine is consistently one of the most interesting online reads and they recently ran a thought- provoking article called ‘How Popular is Genealogy?’ It is well worth reading in full because it makes a very good case that, despite the persistent myth that genealogy is one of the most popular internet hobbies, in fact far fewer people are actively devoting time and money to searching for their ancestors than might be imagined.
Among the magazine’s conclusions is that there are different levels of interest in genealogy, that Ancestry.com dominates the marketplace, and that about 2.1 million people currently conduct ancestral research in the major English speaking countries. They end by saying there is room therefore for growth.
What they don’t discuss or narrow down is the different characteristics of those who are ‘actively engaged’. If we consider those 2.1 million people from the English speaking world, only a small minority are so actively engaged in ancestral research that they might be termed ‘serious’ genealogists. Of course you can be a frequent visitor to genealogy websites, and active in all kinds of ways without actually being a very good genealogist, but I will leave that subject for another time.
We might estimate, (purely in a back of an envelope type of a way), that of those 2.1 million about 80% are building their trees using only the resources they can find online at one or two websites. They could not be said to be serious, or at least not yet. That would leave 420,000 who are slightly more determined and/or knowledgeable. Of this number, perhaps 50% work hard at their tree for a number of years, only to put it to one side when they reach the end of all the sources that are easy to get at, or hit natural stopping points, or when they reach a self-set goal which might be to find out about one particular line and produce a chart for others in the family. Now we are down to the elite 210,000 or so who are both active and continuously active over a long period of time. Bear in mind, that this figure includes people in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as the UK and Ireland. If we crudely proportion out those 210,000 according to the population of those respective countries then we get
- 149,100 in the US
- 29,400 in the UK
- 16,800 in Canada
- 10,500 in Australia
- 2,100 in New Zealand
- 2,100 in Eire
Of course I cannot claim these figures are likely to be very accurate, I just offer them up as a starting point for thinking about who we are and where we are living. Here are some more figures which might be said to indicate the seriousness of a number of people researching British and Irish ancestry:
- The Society of Genealogists has around 11,000 members.
- Who Do You Think You Are Live 2014 attracted 13,128 visitors.
- The Guild of One-Name Studies has around 2,600 members and over 8,400 registered surnames actively being researched [this group is probably one of the most highly dedicated group of genealogists anywhere in the world].
- The National Archives report 10,000 downloads of some of their podcasts over a one year period.
What therefore makes a ‘serious’ genealogist? I have put together some characteristics that might help define this:
- Interested in finding out more than just names and dates
- Talks of the addictive nature of genealogy
- Does not follow just one ancestral line or surname
- Visits record offices in person
- Spends money engaging others to help their research
- Has more than one website subscription
- Member of a family history society
- Volunteers their time to genealogy
- Runs a website/blog devoted to genealogy
- Writes about their research, or writes up their research
- Has a small library of books on genealogy
- Wants to improve their research methods
- Recognises the need to find out about more obscure sources
- Takes courses to improve their knowledge
- Wants to turn professional or is already professional
- Wants to work to an agreed standard
What do you think? How many are really serious about genealogy and not just in a ‘it is my favourite pastime’ type of way?