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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Is there a Genealogy Age Gap?

My recent post on the Genealogy Age Gap has engendered some interesting comments. I would like to quote one comment in particular from Anonymous:
Wow, as a 30-something person who DOES do genealogy and who KNOWS many young people who are interested, I have to admit that your post is insulting on a few fronts. "We are especially uninterested in our family." What?! First of all, I am a stay-at-home-mom and wife - my family is EVERYTHING to me. I started doing genealogy for my kids' sakes, but I soon realized that my entire extended family in benefiting from my work. Second, we are not educated enough to do genealogy research? I have a Master's Degree and just about every young person I know, even my 22 yr old sister, has the computer and research knowledge to begin basic genealogy research. You don't need to like history to embrace genealogy - you need to show people how it tells life stories. Everyone loves a good story, esp. when it's about a family member. Do you remember what it was like in your 20s and 30s? Here's how mine went: College, grad school, plan wedding, work, work, surgery on leg, move, have baby, more surgery, have another baby, move again. Not a whole lot of time for genealogy research. Oh, and let's not forget that genealogy isn't not cheap - right now, saving for my kids' college funds and our retirement funds is sort of a bigger priority for me and my husband and it will be for awhile. I just started a genealogy blog last year and I can't tell you how many of my contemporaries comment and say "Wow that's so cool, I wish I could find that stuff out about my family." We ARE interested. My suggestion to YOU and other "older" people who seem to hold unreasonable and completely untrue stereotypes about young people is to stop insulting us and instead use your enthusiasm for and knowledge of genealogy to welcome us into the fold.
First of all, I would like to commend Anonymous for her interest in genealogy. But I think her comments that my post was insulting goes a little too far. I am sorry if she felt insulted. As I pointed out in my reply to her comment. She finds herself in a very small minority. First, she has an advanced degree, second, she is married with two children and third, she is interested in genealogy. Obviously, my comments were not directed at her or her peer group. Let's look at one fact, worldwide for an example of the small minority we as genealogy belong to.

According to the U.S. Census website, there are today, 7,073.445,406 people in the world. OK, so how many of these could be considered genealogists? Are we going to classify everyone who has an "interest in their family" as genealogists? Or even potential genealogists? Let's do some guessing here. I think a fair and liberal assessment of the number of "actively" interested genealogists could be somewhere about the total number of people with online family trees. How many are there in this category? Unfortunately, these statistics are quite difficult to obtain. claimed about 2 million paid subscribers worldwide in 2012. Let's triple that number as an estimate of the number of family trees worldwide, say 6 million or so. This is about .08% of the world's population. If that holds true in the United States, only about 27,000 people out of the U.S. population of 315,525,293 would be interested in genealogy. I think the numbers are likely higher because more people in the U.S. proportionately are interested in genealogy than some other countries. Let's assume, for the purpose of illustration, that half of the world's genealogists, as defined by an online family tree, live in the U.S. or about 3 million. (I personally think this is quite a high estimate, but useful for illustration). That means that .04% of the U.S. would have a family tree online or about 126,000 people. This seems high to me, but it is possible. What would be the age spread of those 126,000 people?

Well, some statistics are available to give us an idea. Those are the statistics of who reads the genealogy blogs. That is relatively simple using My readership is predominately over the age of 55, with a graduate degree, no children, and browsing from work. The readers are pretty well evenly split between male and female. So in a few years, Anonymous, the commentator, will fit right into the demographic.

As a married, 30 something, with a husband and a stay-at-home mom with two children, Anonymous has put herself into an even smaller minority since in that age group only about half of all the people are even married.

The point is that the Anonymous commentator finds herself in a very small minority. I could go on quoting statistics, but the reality of the situation is that genealogy is a very small special interest activity and the question I ask and asked is how do we expand that interest into a population that is really not interested in the same things we are.

Of course my assumptions are always open to discussion and used for illustration only. I do not claim to be exactly accurate but only generally so. I could start citing statistics about the general educational level of people in the U.S. but that would be too discouraging.

I must admit, that I associate with a whole lot of genealogists. But the antipathy of the general population towards genealogy is marked. My blog post was intended to start people thinking and it looks like I did. Thanks for all your comments but I will still be reporting at RootsTech about the makeup of the attendees.


  1. After reading your article and the Anonymous retort, I believe she was much more insulting to us 'older' folk than you were. Of course, I am also one of those 'older' persons. At least she didn't call us 'elderly!' I love it when a news article will mention an elderly person of 65. Since I passed that a while back, I guess I must be ancient!

  2. Since your original comment was that there was a lack of interest for genealogy in young people relative to the population as a whole, your response to the comment that there is a lack of interest in genealogy as a whole isn't a logical response. You were stating that young poeple aren't interested in genealogy more so than old people, so the lack of interest in genealogy among everyone is absolutely irrelevant.

    Assuming that there aren't a lot of young genealogy researchers because you haven't seen them, falls into the clasic Black Swan Fallacy. "I've never seen a Black Swan, so Black Swans don't exist." Just because someone hasn't been to Australia doesn't mean the Black Swans in Australia are non-existent. Perhaps the young genealogy researchers are spending most of the time doing their research online where you aren't likely to run across them physically. Because, during the day, they have jobs and stuff, because they aren't retired.

    Genealogy has long been a pursuit of the retired, due to the time involved, not due to interest. The retired don't miraculously develop an interest in family history upon retirement, they develop time. Lack of time to go to the library during library hours isn't equivalent to a lack of interest, and it would be foolish to assume otherwise.

  3. My gut reaction to the initial blog post was similar to that of Anonymous. Just because we're not at the library researching, doesn't mean we're not interested. Time is a huge factor for young adults, even those without children. The precious little time I have to squeeze in genealogy research will be done online (and then someone will surely complain that I'm not at a repository elbow-deep in original records).

    My working parent friends are in similar situations--they appreciate and admire their parents and grandparents and so on, and one day hope to be able to learn more about them. Let's face it--this time of life isn't genealogy-friendly. Someone told me that now is the time to focus on making memories that will one day be family history, and that's what I try to do. And I hate that I'm having to justify that.

    I also believe that an interest in family history can take many forms, not all of which looks like traditional genealogy. Some people scrapbook today's memories, some visit Grandma in a nursing home, some bake their mother-in-law's great-aunt's cake recipe, some practice the knitting skills learned from mom, some travel to places their family came from.

    The original "age gap" post was about "many of our young people," "many of our youth today" and "older young adults, say 20 to 35," not about unmarried, nonparent, non-college-educated young people. Sure, there are people who don't consider family history important. But in my experience, time is the major impediment for these young people.

  4. Hi there,
    I am a young writer from the "Genealogy Age Gap zone" and I found your article very interesting (without feeling ofended) as well as many of other posts in the blog. I was wondering if you would be interested in sharing some of your posts on Glipho? It's a new social blogging network which aims to promote the writing of its users and to build their audiences, where you can connect to every social network accounts. I bet that our users would be very interested in your material!

    Glipho is a new social publishing engine which allows users to quickly upload their content, being able to import the posts from your blog in a super-easy way without affecting it at all.

    Please, have a look and take a tour to know more about and if you feel like it, in one click you can set up your account!
    I hope you will join our Glipho community soon

    All the best,


  5. Your original post was not insulting. Anonymous is overly sensitive.

    John's "black swan" defense is interesting... but not convincing. Although I'm aware of no formal research on genealogists' ages, the age gap seems pretty clear to me.

    If we assume that the "time crunch" problem is a major impediment to younger people... What's the solution? Perhaps easier access to records online? has already done that, and it doesn't seem to have helped much. is bringing even more records online, but I doubt it'll significantly shift genealogy's age demographics. ... Unfortunately, I don't have a strong solution to offer.

    -- a never-married, childless, Southern, white, non-Mormon, 27 year-old genealogist with a doctoral degree... if any of that matters

  6. I just found your blog searching for something unrelated to this specific content, but I feel compelled to respond. I am 25, and have been researching "seriously" for almost 10 years. I was turned on to genealogy by an "old person." He was a teacher, and assigned a genealogy project as part of our US History class. It forever changed me. As I am passionate about genealogy and this constant need to defend my generation from your generation, who acts as though we are irrational, my response must be posted in two comments.

    The problem with your arguments, Mr. Tanner, is that you are trying to be insulting. You act as though you are surprised, at the offense taken, but I suspect if you are honest with yourself you will acknowledge that this is true. You assert that young people don't have basic literacy or math skills. How is that not offensive/ignorant, when the US has a 99% literacy rate? My generation is the most educated generation America has ever seen, with 40% of Millennials in college in 2008 (according to the Census Bureau). My great-grandparents didn't even go to high school. Perhaps you can see that your insensitive reply to Anonymous was skewed? You quote stats as though you are a statistician, but you don't even explain the statistics. The fact is that younger people are more formally educated than older people. This is not a slam (as you yourself insinuated, facts are facts, don't be offended!), and I do not only value formal education. But you are the one to tell this woman she is such a small percent. As of 2012, 37.2% of females, ages 25-29 have a BA or higher. This is compared to the total population, which is at 30.9%. Clearly, you didn't take time to examine the data that you spout off to her. You were too busy telling her that she's privileged (which is strange, as clearly she's part of a MAJORITY of Americans who are married... what was the point of that stat?). She is part of a growing population, and as my grandmother's generation worked so hard for women's rights, I feel insulted by the way you dismiss her education.

    All of your points are so far off the mark, I'm confused as to how you arrived at these conclusions. Who are these uneducated young people with no motor skills or computer skills that you meet with such regularity? Last I checked, we were constantly getting slammed for reading e-books and using MP3s and Facebook instead of having our 8-track players and stone tablets to read from.

    The fact that you are stumped by the "lack" of young people in genealogy is rather amusing, as everyone has given you the most obvious reasons already. It's not really a mystery. Let me make it more clear: