Family History is for Everyone
According to D. Joshua Taylor at the Green Valley (AZ) Genealogical Society seminar yesterday, the stereotypical genealogist is a 65 year old white female. He learned this when he dedicated a separate web browser for his genealogy google searches only. Google built a profile based on these searches to target him for advertisements. He found out from friends at google that google thought he was a 65 year old white female. We got a good laugh out of this story – especially since 95% of the seminar attendees matched this profile.
Family History is for Everyone
I think google needs to update their profiling! A study in 2001 seeking to learn more about the demographics of genealogists investigated if the stereotype of genealogists being female and elderly was supported by the study participants. They recruited genealogists online and at a genealogical convention to complete a survey. They found that although the majority of study participants were female (72.2%), only 20% of the participants were what might be considered “elderly” (i.e., 65 or older). Given that this study is 15 years old, I would say the demographics of those interested in genealogy have changed. I think another study that shows the demographics of genealogists is needed.
You may have heard that genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, but I couldn’t find the Marist Poll that this book cited. Other hobby statistics say that the top three hobbies in the U.S. are watching TV, socializing, and playing games. That rings a little more true.
Similarly, you may have heard that genealogy websites are the second most visited category of websites. A report by Marketing Charts disagrees – saying the top three are actually search engine sites, social networking sites, and portal sites, such as those for checking email.
Despite these myths, genealogy interest is certainly growing. In 2016, 25,000 people attended RootsTech, the largest genealogy conference in the world, up from 23,918 in 2015.
Here’s a chart showing the number of users of major genealogy websites. The FamilySearch data is a little outdated, and many people use several of these websites, but the numbers are still interesting:
I, for example, am a member of all of these websites and services except 23 and Me and Family Tree DNA. 80 million members of MyHeritage.com – what staggering figure.
As far as visits to actual websites per day, Ancestry.com is ranked the 106th most popular website in the United States, according to Alexa website traffic estimates. How did other genealogy websites rank? FindAGrave.com came in at 589, and FamilySearch.org at 793. The others are far behind.
Cyndi’s List, a categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet, contains links to 330,755 links as of today. More are added every week. This doesn’t include most of the genealogy blogs. You can find a listing of over 3,000 of them at GeneaBloggers.com.
According to my own observations, more and more young people are becoming interested in their roots and joining the ranks of family historians and genealogists. I believe that family history is for everyone! Whether you’re interested in restoring old photos, capturing stories of the present, researching your revolutionary war ancestors, journaling, scrapbooking, or adding names to the pedigree, you’re doing family history.
Yesterday, Josh Taylor recounted his own genealogy journey. At age 10, his grandmother assigned him a genealogical research project. At age 12, he began volunteering to transcribe genealogical documents for county pages at USGenWeb.org. The rest is history. Now he’s the President and Executive Director of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYG&B), co-host of Genealogy Roadshow, and President of FGS (Federation of Genealogical Societies).
Like Josh, many of us have unique stories about how we came to love genealogy and family history. As part of our new “Family History is For Everyone Spotlight” series, I’ll share my own experiences in learning to love genealogy.
I have scoured my journals and papers to remember how my interest grew over time. It began at age 12, when my mother encouraged me to do a family history project compiling stories of my female ancestors who were examples of different virtues for a Young Women Personal Progress project. It was 1998 and the young women organization was promoting a worldwide celebration of family history and temple work. I still have my project! I cherish it.
My 12 year old self wrote –
“By writing about all of these wonderful people, I have learned so much. Reading and learning about them from people who knew them was such a wonderful experience. I am so excited about what I have learned about these grandmas that I can’t wait to learn more about all of my ancestors.”
Then, at age 16, I began writing in my journal about a new and exciting aspect of family history – research!
My Grandpa Shults had turned over his suitcase of genealogical research to my mother that year. She enlisted me in her efforts to organize it and expand on it. Using our new subscription to Ancestry.com and the free websites USGenWeb.org and FamilySearch.org, I began to make exciting discoveries about my family tree.
But why did my 16 year old self care about researching the family tree? It so happens that the stars had just aligned for me to begin a new hobby. Our family had moved away from Seattle, where I grew up, to Utah. I tried out for the volleyball team but didn’t make it. I didn’t have many friends. Being cooped up inside during the cold winter months meant that I could either watch TV, read, or discover my ancestors. More often than not, I chose the latter! I still remember the playlist of music I used to listen to while I searched cemetery records and U.S. Census records from Oklahoma and Texas. (It was mostly Keith Urban and Tim McGraw. Fitting, right?)
The example of several people made it possible for me to fall in love learning about my ancestors. Here are some of my mentors:
My Grandma Shults has always loved family stories. She carefully curated and handed down pedigree charts, stories of her ancestors, and beloved family photos.
Grandpa Shults is, of course, the owner of the famous suitcase full of research. His dedication and desire to know his roots was inspirational to me.
My Grandma and Grandpa Elder compiled folders of short accessible ancestor stories that we could easily read at home during a family night. They researched the Elder side and connected with a nun in Maryland who compiled books about the descendants of William Elder. They recorded the stories of their own lives and passed them down to us. Grandma compiled CDs of photos of herself and Grandpa growing up and shared them.
My History Teacher
In seventh and eighth grade I had the privilege to learn at the feet of an incredible woman, Gloria Dominguez. She was my Spanish, English, and Social Studies teacher. She taught me to love history and researching. I loved her class and I loved her. I remember so many things she taught. She taught us, when researching, to write every fact in our own words on a notecard, citing which source it came from. Then we put the facts in order in an outline and proceeded to write our research paper. When she passed away a few years later I, along with hundreds of her students, attended her funeral.
My father began researching his roots in 1996. A Family History Consultant named Nancy Kirkpatrick helped him know how to start. He made a research goal to search for the parents of his 2nd great grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Medley. Nancy helped him order microfilms from the Family History Library and encouraged him to go to the National Archives in North Seattle to look up census records about the Medleys. There he found Elizabeth Ann’s father, mother’s maiden name, and brothers and sisters.
My mother has been my partner in crime since the beginning. She encouraged me in my ancestor stories project at age 12 and got me started researching the Shults in 2002. We’ve grown in our love for family history together and it’s been an incredible journey so far. She’s now working on becoming an AG (accredited genealogist), and I’m planning to follow in her footsteps as soon as possible!
Now I will answer a few questions:
What regions and surnames are you currently researching?
I am working on my Welch ancestors in Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina. Also, the Keatons of South Carolina. I’m searching for more information about my Silvius family of Pennsylvania and Ross family of Ohio. My husband and I would like to learn more about his Dyer roots in Tennessee, but have hit quite a brick wall there. I would like to rewrite the life story of my great grandmother, Ettie Belle Harris, that I wrote when I was 16. There are a few things I need to correct and improve. I am working to collect memories of my great great grandmother Jessie Estelle Ross.
What is your favorite thing about genealogy and family history?
I love the stories. That has always been my passion. I love writing about what I’ve found and proving or disproving stories that seem to be questionable. I’m a fervent believer in accuracy and citing sources.
What do you hate about genealogy and family history?
The worst is when I can’t find that missing census year for a family I’m tracking. I can spend hours looking for a family and come up empty and frustrated! Usually I can find them after a while, but some of those southern census years after the Civil War are difficult. It was comforting to learn that some families just weren’t listed during the reconstruction.
What’s your favorite way to share family history with others?
I like making photo books to share family history with my siblings, parents, and grandparents. It’s such a tangible, visible way to connect with ancestors. I also love to tell stories to my children. It helps me remember why I do family history.
What’s your story? How did you become interested in genealogy and family history? We would love to feature you in our series. Contact me for more details – firstname.lastname@example.org.