Survey shows family history knowledge declining despite growing interest

  • By Michael Katchen
  • October 15, 2011
Genealogy Roundtable

October is Family History Month, a time when many of us in the genealogy community get to spend a little more time than usual on our passion. It’s also the natural time to take stock of how we are doing at sharing our passion and inspiring others to discover their family history.

In reflecting on the state of genealogy today we recalled a survey conducted by in 2007. The survey found that the overwhelming majority of Americans (78%) were interested in learning more about their family history but only half could name more than one great-grandparent[1].

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 survey found that more people than ever are interested in learning about their family history but today they (on average) know even less about their genealogy. 80% of respondents were very interested or interested in learning more about their family history (up from 78% in 2007). On the other hand only 40% were able to name more than one great-grandparent (in 2007 50% were able to).

Genealogy Survey Results for Family History Month

It seems that while there are so many new tools available and genealogy has "hit the mainstream" most people are still left wanting. We realize that this is too important a topic for their just to be one voice. Rather we have invited five of the community’s top thinkers to share their reactions together, in one place. From Monday to Friday next week, we will release a new post every day at 9AM PDT to stimulate more discussion.

Our stellar team of guest bloggers is designed to foster debate and offer a breadth of perspectives. From the blogosphere we have Caroline Pointer of 4YourFamilyStory and Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers; author and professional genealogist Amy Johnson will offer her view; and for another different perspective we will have FGS Director Randy Whited and Chief Genealogical Officer at Family Search David Rencher. Each of them has been challenged to help inspire a serious community-wide discussion and debate on what we, as a community, can do differently.

We invite and encourage everyone to participate in the conversation. If you want to blog about your own thoughts, please send the link to or simply include the hashtag #familyhistorymonth on a tweet. Next Saturday, we will publish a summary of all the perspectives and ideas shared.

This family history month let’s not only make sure to move our own research forward but also take a little time to have a serious discussion of where we are as a community today and where we want to be another 4 years from now.


1. survey zOmnibus Survey, MarketTools, February 2007: available here

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