Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is Family History Knowledge Declining? Updated!

The 1000Memories website blog has a series of posts celebrating Family History Month, including:

Survey shows family history knowledge declining despite growing interest by Michael Katchen on 15 October 2011

It’s time to change the game - family history survey response (1/4) by Caroline Pointer on 17 October 2011

Genealogy's need for curators - family history survey response (2/4) by Thomas MacEntee on 18 October 2011

Societies and the Non-Genealogist Genealogist - family history survey response (3/5) by Amy Johnson Crow on 19 October 2011.

We're doing it wrong - family history survey response (4/5) by Randy Whited on 20 October 2011.

Transforming the genealogy experience - family history survey response (5/5) by David Rencher on 21 October 2011.

Looking Forward When Looking Back by Elyse Doerflinger on 19 October 2011.

The reason for the blog post series, as best I can tell, is a perceived reduction in knowledge about family information.  Michael Katchen's post says:

"A lot has changed in four years. There has been an explosion of digital records, new tools and mass-market entertainment such as NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” All this begs the question -- has this helped the vast majority of Americans get started in genealogy? To find out we commissioned a new version of the 2007 survey."

The website has this graphic:

In a 2007 survey commissioned by Ancestry.com, 78% of respondents said that they were interested in genealogy, and 50% said that they could name more than one great-grandparent (out of 8 possible).   If you look at the survey results, you will see that the 2007 survey indicated that:

*  One-third (33%) of Americans cannot name any of their great-grandparents, and 50% can name more than  one of them.
*  40% of Americans know both of their grandmothers maiden names.
*  78% of those surveyed said that they were interested in learning more about their family history.
*  50%  of American families have researched their roots.
*  And more - read it all here.

The 2007 survey results do not indicate the survey scope (how many persons), the questions (how were they posed - yes/no or essay?), results (percentages) or respondent demographics (age, gender, race, income, location, etc.).  It just provides a verbal summary of the results. 

In the new survey ( labeled 2010), the graphic above indicates that 80% said they were interested in genealogy, but only 40% said that they could name at least one great-grandparent. 

Without knowing the survey scope, the questions asked, the results, or the respondent demographics, an accurate comparison with the 2007 survey can not be statistically made.  Were the same questions asked of the same demographic groups (age, gender, race, income, location, etc.)?  I have requested more information about these issues from Michael Katchen at 1000memories.com. 

Any valid comparison between 2007 and 2010 survey results needs to be based on similar questions and demographics.  Otherwise, we are dealing with apples and oranges.  It will be interesting to see what the 2010 survey results were.  

 Update: Michael Katchen provided the link to the 2010 survey: https://qtrial.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_cvRSdWaIlXW1Prm. He noted via email that they had 300 respondents.
Frankly, I was not surprised by the 2007 survey results - I think that they reflect American societal circumstances, attitudes and values.  With approximately 50% of marriages ending in divorce, and with families so dispersed around the country, I think that it's not unusual for adults to not know their great-grandparents names - it's likely that they never met them, and are too busy with life to worry about knowing or remembering their names.  The same for grandmothers maiden names -- they likely knew, and many even met, their grandmothers, but they never bothered to learn their maiden names. 

I greatly appreciate the guest blog posts by Caroline Pointer, Thomas MacEntee, Elyse Doerflinger and others. They are thoughtful, resourceful, and provide excellent guidance for individuals, genealogy societies, non-profit organizations and commercial companies.

Updated 19 October:  Added Elyse's post, and added link to the 1000Memories survey questions.
Updated 21 October:  Added Amy, Randy and David's posts.

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