Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Are We Strangers in Genealogy Land?

James Tanner wrote No Big Deal today on his Genealogy's Star blog today, lamenting (?) that genealogy blogs really don't have a significant readership in the bigger Genealogy World.   His experience at the Family History Expo Conference, and in his classes at a local FHC, pretty much mirror my own experiences when I make presentations at genealogy societies or teach a class.  We often seem to be "Strangers in a Strange Genealogy Land."

If I'm lucky, perhaps 10% of the attendees at a presentation have at least heard of my blog, and maybe 5% actually read it regularly.  New genealogists are at 0%.  The group on the Legacy Family Tree cruise was at the 10% level too.  I doubt that 10% of my local Chula Vista society, with 100 members, actually reads my blog.  almost everyone knows I have one, and most probably think that I waste my time writing it.

It's even worse than that.  I took a survey at my society meeting last week, asking who was on Facebook (about 20%), on Google Plus (about 10%), or on Twitter (about 10%).  Only about 20% had a smart phone or a tablet mobile device, and only 10% said that they used it for genealogy research or education.  My talk was on using mobile devices for genealogy, and most that I talked to afterwards said "I'll talk to you if I get one."

It seems to me that there is a small group of "tuned-in" persons (10 to 20%) who are into social networking, online research, and collaboration and a larger group of "occasional" persons (80 to 90%) who go to society meetings or check out online databases on a haphazard basis.  Most of the latter group seems to have no real interest in genealogy conferences, or online collaboration.  Some are either scared of, or intimidated by, or befuddled by, using computers for genealogy.

James Tanner and I, and most of our regular blog readers, are in that smaller group of "tuned-in" and first adopters, as are most genealogy bloggers, conference planners, conference and seminar speakers, and some conference goers.  How big is this group?  Based on my blog statistics, Facebook friends, Google Plus followers, conference attendance, etc., there are perhaps 5,000 persons who are really "tuned in."  They write and read blogs and magazine articles, work in their local or larger societies, and attend conferences and seminars.

Because of this difference in participation, the idea of collaborating rarely gets adopted by the larger group.  Many have done their research the old way with forms, pencils, photocopies and microfilms, and don't really take part in the online activities enthusiastically promoted by the smaller group.  It's just how it is.

I receive a number of emails every week from people who have found my blog articles for specific family lines or persons, so I know that "blogging works."  I try to respond to these emails with helpful information and perhaps a genealogy report in PDF format, and encourage the correspondent to add content to my database.  Other geneabloggers have the same experience.  For me, blogging has taken the place of the message boards and mailing lists, which all seem to be dormant (with some exceptions).

While Ancestry.com has 1.7 million subscribers, and there are millions of family trees on Ancestry with billions of persons (many are duplicates), I receive relatively few messages through their system - perhaps one a week.  It seems like the average number of persons on an Ancestry Member Tree is about 100, and that indicates to me that most of the trees are relatively small and probably dormant.  There are a number of persons with relatively large trees (mine is about 40,000 persons) and there is a good chance of finding common ancestry on those larger trees.  But there is little real collaboration.

The inter-connected family trees on WeRelate.org and WikiTree.com have a relatively small number of submitters, but the number on Geni.com is larger.  However, on Geni.com, the average number is probably about 100 persons submitted by a user since there is no GEDCOM capability.

The "next" big inter-connected family tree system is the FamilySearch Family Tree, where the hope is that significant collaboration will occur, discussions, documents and source citations will rule, and the Mother of all Genealogy Family Trees will blossom.  IBIWISI - I'll believe it when I see it!

This post kind of meandered through a number of fertile fields, didn't it?   I think that's it's not one of my best efforts, but I spent a lot of time doing it so I'm going to post it anyway!  If anything, it can always be a bad example of a genealogy blog post.

Is our band of merry geneabloggers doomed to wander through cyberspace forever, or will thousands of new genea-readers suddenly appear from the rest of the Genealogy World?

What do you think? 

The URL for this post is:  http://www.geneamusings.com/2012/06/genestrangers-in-strange-genealogy-land.html

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

Time. It's all about time. As more and more hobbyist genealogists either learn to use social media (as in, it becomes not so scary), or we add more people into genealogy that are younger and more tech savy, the online community will grow. Collaboration will increase. The focus will change from society meetings to G+ hangouts. As someone very wise once told me, "Social Media is not going away. Either jump in with both feet or back away from the pool to make room for everyone else." Perhaps we're in the early stages yet, perhaps there is more each of us can do. The simple requirement is time.

James Tanner said...

Thanks for the comments. I will believe it when I see it also. I just figured out that I am probably the only blogger who didn't go to the Southern California Jamboree. Too bad.

Helen V Smith said...

It is a repeat of the time computers an genealogy began to mix. At that time there were a few people who began using computers to record their family history while others said that these "computers will never take on". Today the majority of people use computers.

Over that time we ran classes, wrote articles and showed people the advantages of computers for genealogical recording and research.

Today we are doing the same thing with social networking. It is important that we continue to tell people about the benefits even if at times it seems we are lone voices in the wilderness.

Sonja Hunter said...

I wonder if the reason newbie genealogists don't read blogs is that they are unaware they exist. I recently began blogging (www.kalamazoogenealogy.blogspot.com)and in an attempt to publicize, my mom put out flyers at my hometown library (as I live out-of-state). I'll see if this has any effect on readership.
I think the other problem is that there is only so much time in a day. I stay at home with my daughter now and if given a choice of reading 15 blogs a day or reading her a book, I'll read her a book. I know there are good things I'm missing, but I have to prioritize.
I would love to attend a conference, but unless it is where I live and I have a babysitter, it's just not going to happen anytime soon. *Sigh*
I must say that I also wish more people contacted me through my Ancestry tree (and yes I have contacted others when it looks like I could find more information), but if only a few of those connections result in a good collaboration I'm happy.

Diane B said...

Randy, great topic. As all bloggers know, people do find your blog through searching specific things, not necessarily because they've decided to read blogs. I have made far more valuable connections to distant cousins through my blog than through message boards or Ancestry. For this reason, I suspect that access to blogs will increase as time goes on. It also helps me to convey genealogical finds to the relatives that I know.
More importantly and perhaps controversially, I think the blogging community itself (which includes active readers) is its own "society". I feel so much more connected online to other genealogists than I ever do when attending a meeting of a local society. Which makes me think, are there personality differences that draw certain kinds of people into online communities, and make those people poorly suited to the several-years-wait that I sense is the norm before anyone talks to you at a local society? Don't get me wrong, I strike up conversations there and have a pretty decent time, but where is the welcome? For all those who go out of their way to greet and welcome and involve newcomers at local societies, keep it up, your work is badly needed!

GeniAus said...

Tick, tick, tick.

Randy, you and each of the people who have commented on this post have demonstrated the benefits of collaboration and the richness of dialogue that blogs can initiate and the warm relationships that can develop through them.

When I met Randy and James for the first time at Rootstech this year and Helen at the Australian Congress it was like catching up with old friends. I knew them already via social media. Yes, Diane, my relationships with fellow bloggers are richer than those with the people I see each month at genealogy meetings.

So what if we differ from the mainstream? We have chosen to go down a collaborative path while others are happy to do it their way. If we convert a few along the way then that is a bonus.

Let's keep on blogging and baiting cousins and enjoying the rich relationships we build up along the way.

Tessa Keough said...

I agree with Jen Baldwin that we need to be willing to try new things and make use of social media. It is a process of try and decide what works for you. I personally enjoy Google+ and have added genealogists to my Genealogy Circle that I like to follow. I think the ability to use Hangouts on Google+ is huge and underutilized. It is a great place to work through issues with your genealogy programs or to work collaboratively with other researchers. Lots of times you can get so much more out of something by chatting it through and you can share your screen and work on a document in real time.

That said, there are so many things that yammer for our attention that sometimes it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. So how do we make the best use of our time and resources. Great discussion.

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

I totally know how you feel, Randy. I write blog postings for our genealogy society and I doubt many read it. I tried to make it easy for them to "subscribe by email" but I think most couldn't be bothered. I write at three blogs but I know I spend way too much time reading blogs. I don't know how you do it and get any of your own research done, too!

Christine M. said...

Here are some of my random thoughts on this subject:
1-what are the demographics of the blog-reading population v the non-blog-reading population? My gut feeling is that much of the genealogical community is the older crowd, who tend to be more tech-averse or at least not as tech-savvy. (I am 47 & my generation tends to either embrace tech or not).
2-I knew almost nothing about genealogy blogs until I started listening to Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast (which I discovered by browsing podcasts on my iPhone). I started off with some blogs she recommended & it took off from there!
3-Now that I am a genealogy blog reader, I wouldn't have it any other way. I learn so much, get the latest news in the genealogy world...it really does make me feel part of a larger community, even though I'm not a blogger myself.

So thanks, all you geneabloggers! Your efforts are NOT in vain!

Jana Iverson Last said...

I am a new genealogy blogger, although I started doing research back in 1994 or so. I agree with Sonja that perhaps genealogists are unaware of genealogy blogs. I know I was. I only found out about them after watching this year's Rootstech online classes.

I also wonder if some people are intimidated to start a blog. I can relate to that (what more can I add that isn't already being said, am I a good enough writer, etc.). But I have found it to be rewarding and I've learned a lot from other bloggers.

I do hope that what Jen said is right regarding our online community increasing as people become less intimidated and the younger genealogists join in. And in a broader sense, we also need to find a way to attract younger non-genealogist people to the fun that is genealogy.

GeneGinny said...

I started a the Seattle Genealogical Society President's blog in August 2009. It was publicized in EVERY Newsletter and Bulletin, but we still only have about 40 "subscribers" and were only getting 5-7 responses to our monthly surveys. Since the new president isn't particularly interested in keeping it up, it's about to be deleted. Never could get any discussions going, though I certainly tried!

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Great article. Excellent comments. I'll add one more perspective. In addition to our blogs, I feel that more of us should find other venues (outside genealogy circles) in which to write and publish articles about family history and genealogy, the benefits, and how social media is being used - especially in pubs for the 30-40-50-baby boomer categories. They will be coming on board. The more we can reach out and make it attractive, and pick up an additional reader or two, I think our 'whole community' will benefit - which will lead to more collaboration and more 'new cousins.' What do you think?

Mark Nicholls said...

As the Chairman of a genealogical society I find blogs useful in providing up to the minute information for my members. We have a very active discussion group (last count 467 members)where news of developments in the world of genealogy are posted. These keep members interested in being part of the group. We always quote the source of the information and hope that some of our members look at the sources. We also have our own blog as a means of trying to capture the interest of people who wouldn't join a society. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook and others are now part of the landscape on which the genealogist/family historian walks. So far from being starngers in the land, I think we are the land.

Lynn Palermo said...

Everyone above has made some great comments. And I can't disagree with anyone. I think we need to look at this as an opportunity and need to seek out ways of introducing the world to genealogy bloggers. As long as we are offering value in our blogs and reaching out beyond our "own online group" we should be headed in the right direction. Some days it does feel like I'm preaching to the converted but then I get an email from a new reader who has just found my blog and I am renewed and invigorated. Jen is right this will take time. And James thanks for your post, and you're not alone, I'm not a Jamboree either.

Tanya said...

Blogs and societies I join are based on ease of joining their mailing lists. I prefer basic email signup, add my email and hit join. No codes to add, etc. I'm semi computer literate and have trouble with signing through most of the other choices. Just what works best for me.
I read over a dozen blogs, several history sites and getting active with my local society.
By the way, 4 cousins have contacted me this year just from my Ancestry trees.

JJT said...

Looks like there's a consensus on a few topics here and I agree with them - including the idea that even though those of us involved as readers and/or writers of blogs feel like they've been around awhile, they are still in the early adopter phase and will readership only grow over time.

I'm in the tech and information security field, and I have to say that the genealogy crowd is *almost* as fast as the tech security crowd in their adoption and good use of the social mediums.

That is interesting, since security people are looking for immediate and up-to-the-minute data while genealogy folks are looking for data over loooong periods of time, albeit perhaps only released online recently.

But, my biggest personal takeaway is this: While having an increasing readership is nice, I realize my blog in particular is going to have a small readership as I often write esoteric (and sometimes silly) pieces that appeal to me.

While I do write about things I think are useful to the community as a whole, I'm often just writing for myself - but also for my family, both known and unknown. The pieces I write that have to do with my ancestral and collateral lines are a small subset of my posts, but those are the bread and butter when it comes to cousin bait and interesting online conversations.

That leads me to an important point: It is a common tenet that once on the Internet, it stays on the Internet. People tend to see the bad side of that equation, as in: "Boy, I wish I didn't post those college drinking photos in 1998!"

But, in family research there is a huge up-side to that idea: While one's blog might be seen by relatively few people, it has potential to draw people for years to come - even those who don't even know they are interested in the topic yet.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comment. I think reading blogs and sharing is critically important. In some ways we are probably "early adopters". I also have started a blog (www.robineau.ca), am still working full-time and do feel guilty that i do not update it more frequently. Spam-bots reply to my posts more frequently than family. I have found extended family through Facebook and can share my research in that manner. Once i retire, i plan to jump in with more vigour. Looking forward to going to Genealogy Conferences. I also suspect that as more computer-literate "baby-boomers" get involved in genealogy all this will change. At least i hope so.

Anonymous said...

Ooops, i guess i should register. Anonymous is : Roger Robineau

Carol Kostakos Petranek said...

Excellent column and dialog. Some of us in "niche" genealogy (I am doing Greek research) are especially counting on making meaningful connections and collaborating with others. Thank you for the post.

Carol Kostakos Petranek

Kaisa Kyläkoski said...

Good text that returned to my mind when I saw a text by Seth Godin The unforgiving arithmetic of the funnel.