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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Players

Who exactly makes up the genealogical community? Who are the players? Some of these questions at different levels have been the topic of discussion at recent Support Meetings of the FamilySearch Research Wiki. But the issues reach much further than any one website or company. So I started thinking about who we are and how does it all work together in the fabric of the community.

This issue is more than simple demographics. Measuring who genealogists are by looking at statistics is very limited. It is sort-of like looking at average income when you have 100 people making $1000 a year and 1 person making $1,000,000 a year. The average income is $10,891.09, but what does that tell you? Exactly nothing. Unfortunately, a lot of major decisions and opinions are made on just such a level of analysis. For more on this subject see

Huff, Darrell, and Irving Geis. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton, 1954.

Let's start with the large organizations and entities and work our way down to individuals since there is likely to be more controversy about who the individuals are than there is about who the larger entities are.

Here is a rough list of the players with some typical examples of each. You can see that some of these entities are involved in genealogy only very peripherally. For example, the Library of Congress has a Local History and Genealogy Reading Room, but could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a genealogical entity.

Commercial enterprises:
  • Large multinational companies with genealogical subsidiaries (,
  • Large international companies that are primarily genealogically oriented (
  • Smaller nationally based companies that have divisions that specialize in genealogy (
  • Much smaller companies whose business is primarily genealogy related products or services (, Millennia Corporation)
  • Family owned or very small companies that provide a specific genealogical product (
  • Professional genealogists (Association of Professional Genealogists)
  • Individuals who promote themselves or specific products (Dick Eastman)
Government sponsored or non-profit enterprises:
  • Huge national government sponsored repositories, libraries or archives (U.S. National Archives, Library of Congress, British Museum, British National Archives)
  • Government agencies (Bureau of the Census)
  • Regional or local libraries and repositories with significant genealogical collections (Allen County Public Library, New York Public Library)
  • Religious or Educational sponsored entities (FamilySearch, Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection)
  • Private non-profit organizations (David Rumsey Historical Map Collection) 
Online community (may overlap with other areas)
  • Huge online databases (overlap with larger companies and other organizations)
  • Commercial websites promoting a genealogically related business (software vendors)
  • Online sponsored or un-sponsored organizations (RootsWeb, GenWeb)
  • Reference sites (Cindy's List)
  • Useful but not genealogical websites or online services (Google, Bureau of Land Management)
  • Family Websites
  • Surname Websites
  • Blogs
Social networking
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Many, many others
Private, non-profit entities or organizations
  • Genealogical societies (Utah Genealogical Association, National Genealogical Society)
  • Local genealogical clubs
  • Family organizations  
  • Individual genealogists
I will probably think of a lot more. But I submit that when we talk about a genealogical community, we are probably not thinking in terms of all the players. Thinking of the community as a whole becomes extremely complicated. How do all of these entities relate. Some of them are purely genealogically oriented and some do not even recognize their participation in the genealogical community.

There are other players who sell directly to the genealogical community but seem to ignore it otherwise. Some examples of this are the Macintosh software developers who write genealogy programs for Apple devices. They seem to live in their own world and ignore any other contact with the community.

More on this subject in future posts.


  1. Another thoughtful post from you James thst provides much food for thought.

    A discussion around this topic and the issues flowing from it would be an interesting conference session.

  2. Um, with 100 people making $1,000, and 1 making $1 million, the average would $10,891, right?

  3. Right, now you know why I am not an accountant or a mathematician.