Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three (or more!) Genealogy Worlds?

After viewing the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City from afar, and giving a presentation at the San Diego Genealogical Society on Saturday, I've concluded that self-proclaimed genealogists live in at least three different "genealogy worlds."  I would define them as:

1)  The "traditional" genealogy world  folks occasionally visit libraries and archives, occasionally attend monthly genealogical society meetings, use computers minimally (perhaps for email only), and don't use "technology."  These people are retired, are often on a limited budget,  and rarely pursue genealogical activities more than once or twice a month.  My guess is that about 85% to 95% of all self-proclaimed genealogists live in this world. 

2)  The "online" genealogy world people actively do research in both repositories and online, are comfortable with the computer (e.g., email, web pages, online searches, software), use some "technology" systems, may join and attend genealogical society meetings, may attend seminars and conferences, pursue genealogical activities several times a week.  These people may still be working in a profession, raising a family, or are actively retired.  My guess is that about 5% to 15% of all self-proclaimed genealogists live in this world.

3)  The "technology" genealogy world is where the genealogist has some of the latest devices, and yearns for more of them, and uses online tools like blogs, wikis, social networks, websites, databases, software, etc.  They are the "early adopters."  Many of these people are working in a profession, are raising a family, are students, or are actively retired.  Many of the experienced genealogists in this group are in several societies, consume print magazines and journals, and regularly attend seminars and conferences.  Many younger people in this group don't research in repositories and don't belong to societies.  My guess is that only 0% to 2% of self-proclaimed genealogists live in this world. 

Why do I think this?  Because I have lived in all three worlds over the past 23 years, and see people in the three groups every month at my genealogical society meetings.  I am mostly in the "technology world" except I don't have many handheld devices (only cell phone, laptop, GPS, digital camera, digital recorder).

In his RootsTech presentation on Friday, "The Changing Face of Genealogy," Curt Witcher provided some metrics to describe the current genealogy demographics, including:

*  49 million people have a "deep appreciation for their ancestors"
*  13 million active researchers
*  1.6 million hobby genealogists online between ages of 18 and 44
*  7.5 million hobby genealogists online over age 45
*  1++ million subscribers to

Witcher also said that the "21st-century genealogists" (meaning young people, presumably under age 44):

* are not genealogical society members (because societies, in general, aren’t embracing technology)
*  use repositories ("brick-and-mortar") resources as a last resort
*  are consumers of the latest technologies and have handheld devices
*  expects real-time information
*  expects rapid technology changes according to Moore’s law (which states that technology will double in capability/capacity every 18 months).

At the SDGS meeting on Saturday, I asked some questions of the 150 or so in attendance during my presentation, including (with the approximate responses):

*  Have you heard of Elizabeth Shown Mills? (about 20%)
*  Have you heard of the Genealogical Proof Standard? (about 10%)
*  Have you used the revamped website? (about 20%)
*  Do you read my blog on a regular basis? (about 5%)

The Family Tree Magazine folks put together a 2010 Family Tree Magazine Genealogy Media Planner (warning, a 4 megabyte PDF download) which includes a summary of the genealogy market, the Family Tree Magazine audience, the 2010 Editorial Content and Calendars, Advertising Information, and Staff Contacts.

Some other statistics I've gleaned over the past few months (approximate from memory):

*  The RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City attracted about 3,000 attendees in February.
*  The NGS Conference in Salt Lake City attracted about 2,000 attendees last April.
*  The FGS Conference in Knoxville attracted about 1,500 attendees last August.
*  Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter has about 60,000 unique visitors per month.
Family Tree Magazine has a print circulation of 70,000.
*  The largest U.S. genealogical society, the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has about 25,000 members.
*  500,000 members belong to 500 societies in the Federation of Genealogical Societies

Some analysis:

For reference purposes, 1% of the 49 million who "have a deep appreciation for my ancestors" is about 490,000 people.  1% of the 13 million that are active researchers is 130,000.  1% of the 9 million that are adults that do online genealogy is 90,000. 

The NEHGS membership is 0.0051% of the 49 million, and 0.19% of the 13 million.  The FGS membership is 1.0% of the 49 million and 3.8% of the 13 million.  The magazine subscriptions are 0.14% of the 49 million and 0.54% of the 13 million.

For a conference attendance of 3,000, that is 0.023% of the 13 million that are active researchers. Eastman's readership is 0.67% of the 9 million that are online. The people with Ancestry subscriptions is about 9% of the 13 million active researchers.

These statistics provoke some questions for genealogical societies to ponder, in particular:

*  How do they attract the "technology" world genealogists, especially the working folks?

*  How do they educate the "online" world genealogists to improve their search skills and broaden their research knowledge?

*  How do they retain the "traditional" world genealogists, who they depend on for most of their membership subscriptions?  Are these people able to learn additional computer skills?

*  How do they embrace technology and attract the 21sters (as Witcher called them) without turning off the "traditionals?"

If readers have other demographics about genealogy, or disagree with my estimates, or disagree with the definitions of the "genealogy worlds," or the steps that genealogical societies need to take to survive, please comment!

UPDATED 8 PM to correct math error (darn calculator!), thanks Roger. Note to self: use the darn calculator...


theKiwi said...

>1% of the 49 million who "have a deep appreciation for my ancestors" is about 2.5 million people.

1% of 49,000,000 is 490,000, not 2.5 million.

My take on your 3 groups would see them more evenly balanced

1 - 60% maybe - maybe lower than that even - particularly if you look at it from the angle of how many are doing genealogy, and even just occasionally go to a society meeting - this is a very low percentage of them all.
2 - 25-30%
3 - 10 - 15%

I'm also curious about your 500,000 members belong to 500 Societies - this comes to 1,000 per society. Subtracting the largest one you quote, 475,000 members belong to 499 Societies = 951 members per society (assuming incorrectly there is no overlap). The society I belong to - Western Michigan Genealogical Society - is I think the second largest in Michigan at about 350 members.

JDR said...

Good post Randy. Handy to have those figures.
If FHSs are to survive and prosper they must continue to look to the existing market and not alienate the majority in the age group that over the years have typically been interested in family history. It was sad to see some of the tweets from Rootstech that didn't seem to appreciate where the market is, as opposed to where it's going.

Unknown said...

Based on this summery, I'd fall into the "technology" genealogy world. I first got into genealogy shortly after the 1930 census became available, fully indexed, via From there I've used many subscription websites and blogs. I subscribe to magazines and buy research guides. Although I was slow to do so, I visit libraries and archives and have mailed off a lot of records requests for original documents.

However one thing I haven't really done is take part in societies. I've actually joined two, but let the subscriptions lapse. One was a local society that didn't apply to my research. The other society reprsents the ancestral home of at least 1/5th of my ancestors and is probably a great resource for me. Why did I drop it? First they're about 300 miles away, so it's not like I can attend a meeting easily. Then, when I would email in a look-up request, I wouldn't recieve a response. They have a nice website, but no communication tools such as message boards, blogs, or facebook page. Living so far away, I felt a disconnect from the society and simply drifted away.

GrannyPam said...

Roger, I'm curious, if West Michigan isn't the biggest Michigan Society, which one is? Oakland County has 213 paid members as of today, so you are much bigger than we are. We do get large crowds at our meetings, but not all are members.

Randy, as a member of more than a few societies I found your groupings interesting. I believe my "hometown" society has the most members in the first two groups. I would guess that people who are inclined to research mostly using technology are not attracted to the idea of attending a "meeting".

I wonder if personalities come into play here? I am not a "joiner", but I have somehow become heavily involved in a genealogy society. Why is this? When I first showed up, they were friendly, and they had something I needed, more information on how to find my ancestors. Then it turned out that I had something to offer, and the energy and time to offer it.

I know of one more genealogical group, the "Want to write a book about my family", group. They can be any age, and they seem quite enthusiastic. These people love history, books and stories, but they don't understand research. They phone, write letters, surf, e-mail and otherwise make attempts to get information for their book. They just never get there, because they don't understand how to do any research for themselves. Yes, I've heard from a few of them.

Susan Petersen said...

These stats are very interesting, Randy, especially those about the 21st century genealogist. I'm speaking to a college class in about 2 weeks about family history (it will be a class assignment for them) and I'm seeing it as a challenge to engage them with some interest in the hobby and doing research. I think I will have to focus on Free Online resources for them - hard for me to imagine they would actually walk a few blocks to the library if they can get information on their laptop or phone. Definitely challenging!

Kerry Scott said...

There are two parts where I don't agree:

1. The 21st century genealogists aren't all (or even mostly) under age 44. RootsTech was FULL of people way older than that, and they were tweeting, Facebooking, and talking about GEDCOM issues. I'm 39, and nearly all of the strangers I talked to were much older than me. These people are more tech-savvy than you think (and this wasn't a small sample group; there were 3K+ attendees).

2. I think the percentage of traditional versus online types could almost be reversed. You can't go by what you see at society meetings, because people my age don't join societies. We get our info online, not in a meeting (and I couldn't join my local society if I wanted to, because the meetings are held in the middle of the day. I used to have a full-time job, and now I have very young kids. There's no way I can go to a meeting in the middle of the day). Most societies aren't really relevant to the people in the second category, so your meetings aren't going to be representative of the population.

Look at Ancestry's traffic. That's your online crowd. That isn't 5-15% of the genealogical's way, way more.

Societies are missing most of the population of genealogists. They're catering to a minority, and that's going to have to change.

Debbie Parker Wayne, Certified Genealogist® said...

I agree with Kerry that there are a lot more online researchers than we think there are. They don't attend society meetings or conferences so they don't get counted.

I added one more world in my blog post at Deb's Delvings. "Traditional, but experienced" researchers haven't embraced technology and advancements in research methodology, but they spend much more time on genealogical research than "traditional" researchers and many of them hold positions of authority in the genealogical community. My recent experience (during which I bit my sore tongue many more times than I describe in the blog post) made me realize how many experienced researchers there are who haven't kept up or haven't embraced advanced methodology and technology newer than pencil and paper.

Untangled Family Roots said...

Interesting details Randy. I'd say I'm probably in the Techie group. Again it has a lot to do with one point you made we have families, work full time jobs, and only go to repositories as a last resort, in my case I'd like to go much more, but time is the issue. I think technology is the one thing that is making this hobby/proffession more available to the younger everyday working class person. We don't have the luxury of time due to retirements, but we need information, usualy quickly so we can keep the momentum. I am looking forward to more records available online. I use every source I can find online to help with my researches, and at times even gracious lovely volunteers who have more time then I or are in a location I can not afford to travel too. But we must still be careful to source everything and research throughly.