RootsTech 2015

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Does Genealogy Win Any Popularity Contests?

The claim that genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies or pastimes in the U.S. or world seems to pop up regularly in print and presentations both inside and outside the genealogical community. In the past, I have examined whether these claims had any basis in fact or were supported by an even moderately reliable opinion poll. Since these types of issues seem to change rapidly, I thought it advisable to revisit the subject of genealogy's popularity in comparison to other interests and pursuits.

The insurmountable problem here seems to be coming to a common definition of a genealogists or family historian. Let's suppose we conducted a poll and ask the following question:

Are you interested in learning about your ancestors?

How many people would answer yes to this question? Obviously, interest in a person's ancestors does not equate with becoming involved in genealogy. Does putting your family tree online or uploading photos make you a genealogist? Do we even care if someone is a genealogist or not? So, why can't we claim most of the world's population as "genealogists" and just leave it at that? After all almost everyone can play baseball, ride a bike or go for a walk and they don't have to qualify as a professional to participate in those activities, why not apply the same criteria to genealogy? Why not simply consider even the most casual interest in finding a person's ancestors as the threshold for inclusion? There is certainly no harm in including all those people as members of the genealogical community? Is there?

I guess I would have to go along with that line of argument. If so many people are interested in genealogy then why have huge advertising campaigns to convince them to do something? The basic issue comes down to measuring the degree of interest and participation in the genealogical community as a criteria for inclusion in the category.

I guess I go back to some recent experiences. This year, in March, we had a very successful and well attended genealogy conference called RootsTech 2013, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Estimates of the attendance were in the range of 6,000+ people over the three day conference. Planning and promotion of the conference started the year before, right after the end of the previous year's conference. It is claimed to be the largest conference in the U.S. for genealogy.

Now, let's fast forward a little bit to later in the year in that same venue, Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2013 another conference was held, this one was called Comic Con. Tickets to the conference were $50 for the three day event. According to news accounts between 70,000 to 80,000 people attended on the Saturday of the Conference.

OK, now here is the question. Why the difference? What if you also knew that Comic Con Conferences were held all over the United States during 2013?

Did you know about or attend either conference? Think about this for a while and then tell me what the threshold is for inclusion in the genealogical community.

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