RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, January 24, 2014

How popular is genealogy, really?

OK, I am aware that Arnon Hershkovitz is presenting on the subject of "Empirical Evidence of the Popularity of Family History Using Digital Traces" at 4:30 on Wednesday for the Innovator Summit at RootsTech 2014, but I feel compelled to state the obvious facts even before that presentation is given. The class is described as follows:
Family history is said to be a very popular hobby in the U.S.A. and worldwide. However, there is no clear evidence supporting this claim. This session will present a new empirical study of data reflecting Internet users' interest in genealogy.
I have written about this subject a few times in the past, so it will be interesting to see conclusion and the methodology used. In the GenealogyinTime Magazine article "Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2014" right at the end of the article is the following:


You probably can't read this chart without clicking on it. But the point is that the number given for all "Daily visits to all genealogy websites" is 278,980. The number comes from calculations made and explained in an earlier article entitled "How Popular is Genealogy?"

I guess I should make a comment or two about why we care at all about the popularity of genealogy. I guess that we all would like to believe that what we passionately care about is shared by a lot of other people. It is the natural tendency to want to belong. So, if we bolster our commitment and time to genealogy with the assumption that what we are doing is widely accepted and popular, we feel better about what we are doing. Personally, I have a different motivation and don't care if anyone else is doing their genealogy as far as my own motivation is concerned. Well, I actually do care if anyone else is doing their genealogy, but mainly for entirely different reasons.

Basically, I think that estimating the number of active genealogists using figures from Internet usage is basically flawed. My perception in teaching classes day after day, is that only a very small percentage of the overall active genealogical community even know about the online world. But given the number of people in the world any actual numbers of active genealogists has to be a vanishingly small percentage of the world's total population. The GenealogyinTime estimate turns out to be 2.1 million active genealogists. Assuming that number could possibly be correct and further assuming all of those people lived in the United States, that would be about 6 tenths of one percent of the U.S. population or .006 %.

Well, let's see what Hershovitz has to say.

6 comments:

  1. The daily-visits numbers are fairly useless for guessing a number of active genealogists. No few may visit 5 or ten sites daily, and some might score a lot more.

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    1. I didn't want to get into the issue of methodology, but any way you look at it daily usage only tells us about a very narrow part of the genealogical community.

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  2. six tenths of one percent is 0.6%

    It's always been my view that only 20% of all genealogists are online, and only 20% of those use it effectively, and only 20% of those use the Internet almost every day. If the 2.1 million persons is accurate, then that comes out to be 16,800 persons who use the Internet for genealogy effectively every day. Maybe my percentages are wrong...

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    1. Thanks, I guess I have about the same view. If there are really that many genealogists out there why is RootsTech expecting only 10,000 people?

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  3. My problem with basing estimates on Internet traffic is knowing which site addresses were used. Are they only looking at the big content providers that we all know about? What about the smaller Web sites where local projects have created a picture of local history, including their own transcriptions? What about online family trees that aren't on those big sites? Sites devoted to one-name studies? Blogs related to family history? Then there's the big question about what sites would reflect genealogical usage in the non-English-speaking worl?. I'm sure we're under-estimating, even acknowledging that some percentage don't use the Internet.

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    1. Good points. As Emerson said, all the thoughts of a turtle are turtles, and of rabbits, rabbits

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