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Sunday, July 29, 2012

America's Favorite Pastime -- Genealogy?

From time to time I review the status of genealogy as a pastime or hobby in the United States. I reminded to do this by the common claim that genealogy is the most popular U.S. pastime or hobby! I am sure that I will hear this again in the very near future. The question is whether or not there is any sort of study or valid statistics to support such a claim?

Just as an example, here is a webpage from the Mid-Continent Public Library, a library with a large genealogical collection, entitled "America's Favorite Pastime." In the body of the article the title is modified to read, "Genealogy has become one of America's favorite pastimes." However, there is nothing in the article citing a source to support the conclusion. Reading many more of the results from a Google search on "genealogy pastime" you find a lot of qualified statements saying that "many people have genealogy as a favorite pastime" which is a far cry from being a favorite with everybody.

I am highly suspect of most "favorites" lists because they usually turn out to support whatever special interest group wrote the list. So if "gardeners" write the list, gardening comes out high and so forth. What indication do we have as to how many people are directly involved in genealogy on a regular basis? So far, I have never been able to find anything that would indicate that genealogy ranks on any list of pastimes. But what about the numbers?

Here is a good number to start with; the number of Ancestry.com subscribers. Ancestry.com's second quarterly report for 2012 lists total subscribers worldwide at 1,870,000 as of March 31, 2012. The figure has to be approximate, but let's assume it is relatively correct. Let's assume all of those users are in the U.S. This is not a valid assumption but is probably high. Let's further assume that anyone willing to fork out $300+ a year is likely interested in the subject. But even though there are that many subscribers, how many of them would rank genealogy as their "favorite" pastime? For the purposes of argument, let's further suppose that all of them rank genealogy as their favorite pastime.

By the way, none of those assumptions are at all valid. It is also not fair to assume that all of the people who consider genealogy to be their favorite pastime or hobby, also subscribe to Ancestry.com. But we have to start somewhere.

Before going too much further, I need to cite a few "favorites" lists from the Internet:
But, you say, I could still go fishing or garden and be a genealogist. Yes, but would you place genealogy as your favorite or just one of the many things you do? The above list of sites could go on and on and it would still say the same thing. Genealogy just is not a "favorite" on the popular lists.

OK, back to numbers. What about gauging pastime interest by readers of the popular genealogy blogs? Dick Eastman's blog is considered the most popular, so lets look at the most recent statistics from the date of this post. Eogn.com (Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter) ranks number 7,629 in the U.S. Pretty respectable, but Nascar.com ranks 695. I mentioned the number of Ancestry.com subscribers, well, the Phillies baseball team had 2,235,781 paid attendance for 50 games in 2012. The average ticket price for a major league game is almost $27 dollars so over the course of a season, if a fan went to all 50 games, they would pay $1,350 or more even if you didn't count food or drinks.

Genealogy is a great pursuit, but I don't think we need to worry about it being number one on anybody's list except our own.

1 comment:

  1. James:

    Comparing genealogy (an active pursuit) to Nascar or Phillies baseball (a spectator sport) is an unfair comparison. Even those pale to watching TV as a hobby.

    Your first comparison to gardening makes much more sense. And bicycling or playing baseball would be acceptable competitors as well.

    See also: "How many genealogists and users of genealogy programs?" at http://genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1954/29

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