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

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Revisiting: Who are the genealogists?

I had a comment to a recent blog post that said,
I enjoy your reasoning, and the posts. However, I must point out, in the spirit of accuracy, that it is a common misconception that the majority of people doing genealogy are elderly. This idea, although popular, is wrong. Genealogists are of all ages. How do I know? I ran the largest study ever done so far -- please see the results at and/or look through the Ancestry magazine past issues to find the article.
Well, this statement really challenges the demographics compiled by Internet analytics such as and my own unsubstantiated observations at every genealogy conference I have ever attended.  It also seems contrary to my perception from dealing with patrons at the Mesa Family History Center for the past seven or eight years.

In looking for the article, I found that the author claims a copyright and asks that she be notified "before publishing information about this study or the web address." Hmm. Looks like my commentator is the person who wrote the study. The commentator has not responded to my attempts at contact, so I will not refer to any of the information in the study, neither will I give the URL. 

Is it a common misconception that "the majority of people doing genealogy are elderly?"

How would we go about determining that fact? And who are the "elderly?" And just for fun, let's see if we can define a "genealogist." 

Let's talk about the elderly first. Do you define yourself as elderly? I'm not sure I will ever reach that point, no matter what my calendar age. There is always someone older than I am and more infirm that I will personally define as elderly. Do we define elderly as a simple chronological age or is there some kind of subjective criteria? I know some people over 90 who could challenge anyone at any time with their fabulous mental ability. On the other hand, I know a lot of much, much younger people who couldn't reason their way out of a paper bag. 

I assume that genealogy is a difficult and challenging activity, no matter what your involvement or mental ability. So is age a criteria? However, in this context, I think the issue is more about simple chronological age. 

What does it mean to be a genealogist? How do you determine if someone is or is not a genealogist? Isn't this somewhat of a self-appointed title? If I say I am a genealogist then I am one? Do I need to know how to spell genealogist to be one? That would probably eliminate a lot of us. How do we find out who thinks they are a genealogist?

What does it mean to "do genealogy?" I have seen surveys that claim huge levels of interest in genealogy where the question asked was "Are you interested in learning about your family's history?" Well, duh, almost everyone will answer yes. The real question is not whether you watch a certain TV show, but whether you actually do something about researching your family. So how do you find these people? I suggest that you look for them at genealogy conferences and Family History Centers. You may also wish to look at who subscribes to by age, if that statistic is available? How about those who bother to read my blog?

Let's look at chronological age. One simple definition is those over 65. By that definition, I am elderly. 

I have always used the demographics for the readers of my blog as an indication of the age level of genealogists generally. I realize that by focusing on the readers of an online blog, I am eliminating a lot of older people whose involvement in the Internet is minimal, but if I am eliminating those older people, the statistics would be skewed towards an older interest group in any event. 

So who reads my blog? In an Alexa snapshot for 20 March 2012, Genealogy's Star ranks 303,507 in the world and 115,730 in the US. Hmm. The audience demographics show a dramatic level of interest by those over 65 compared to the general population. Also, that there are more women than the general population. Those women have graduate school experience and no children. 

I like to think those that read my blog define themselves as genealogists. I would further submit that the overwhelming statistics of my readership show a marked level of interest and involvement by those 65 years old and older. This indicates to me that the population of genealogists is heavily weighted towards the older population. So how do you prove otherwise?


  1. It was interesting reading the study and the methodology used (the link was in the comment). I think the biggest issue is the definition of elderly. Even the study result is skewed to the older population group, probably those with children that are no longer living at home, i.e. empty nesters.

    I attend several genealogy/family history societies and the definite majority of the people are in the retired range or approaching that phase of their life. I think one reason for that is the availability of time. Just based on my personal experience, until you have (or make) the time doing the research is very time consuming. Most people in the younger population group have other priorities in life.

  2. My thought on this is that a lot of people who do Genealogy are perhaps people who were interested before but now that they are retired or semi retired they have time to pursue this hobby or avocation.

    I was semi interested when I was younger but never enough to ask questions. Now, my biggest regret is that I did not start sooner.

    I personally like the instant gratification with the information on line. I also do research in court houses and historical societies.

  3. As a young genealogist (30, but involved in genealogy since a young teen), I believe that most genealogists are older. I am often the youngest person at conferences and genealogy society meetings. I think this is due to both time (I only have so many vacation days a year) and money.

    I feel lucky to have started as a genealogist while 3 of my 4 grandparents were alive. Particularly since one of my grandmother's is very interested in what I find and has always taken me to court houses and cemeteries and helped pay for certificates, probates and microfilms.