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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What are the genealogical myths?

In a recent post I discussed the origin of genealogical myths. Now it is time to examine some of the more prevalent ones beyond the issues involved with fears of identity theft. In this regard, genealogy and genealogists are no different than anyone else in the world as far as creating and circulating ideas and concepts that are not based on any kind of facts and often depart from reality. So I have selected a few for illustration purposes. In some cases, I have copied the wording verbatim from online sources.  I can't really claim that this list is in any sort of order of how prevalent they are, but here it goes:

Genealogical Myth No. 1
Genealogy is the second largest hobby in America; millions of Americans do it every day.

Here is a quote from "Recent surveys have found that genealogy ranks as the second most popular hobby in the United States." This is a conclusion supposedly supported by a 2005 poll by Market Strategies, Inc. (MSI), a national research and strategic consulting firm, and, Inc., determining that 73 percent of Americans are interested in discovering their family history. How many people would respond positively to a question asking if they were interested in discovering their family history? Isn't that sort of like asking if people are interested in traveling to Europe and then concluding that everyone who answers yes has traveled to Europe?

I have addressed this particular issue a number of times over the years, checking every once and a while as this statement arises in print on the Web to see if something has changed. Market Strategies, Inc. is a polling and marketing company. Apparently, the poll that is cited over and over again to support the claimed popularity of genealogy was conducted in 2005. The poll apparently asked some very general questions about interest in family history. There was nothing in the poll that compared genealogy to any other activity. is a company owned by

For a quick comparison check, search for "top hobbies america" on Google. You will find dozens, perhaps hundreds of references to lists of the top ten or whatever hobbies. I challenge you to find genealogy listed in even one top ten list not compiled by a genealogy company. Gardening appears on a lot of lists, as do golf and photography, but genealogy never does. There are a lot of genealogists, but compared to most leisure activities, genealogy does not make the top 100 much less the top ten.

Genealogical Myth No. 2
Genealogy and Family History are two different pursuits.

The bloggers have beat this one to death the past few weeks. It appears that any distinctions made between the two terms are primarily done for the purpose of either denigrating genealogy or trying to distance some activities from genealogy. The reasons for distinguishing between the two terms are not convincing.

Genealogical Myth No. 3
Genealogists are all retired, old people.

This is one myth that seems to be easily substantiated, unless you get online and really examine the genealogical community. There are a lot of older people, but there are also a lot of younger people. This is certainly a myth that needs to be retired.

Genealogical Myth No. 4
Everything you need to find you family's history in online.

This is a myth perpetuated by advertising. The larger database programs would apparently like all of us to believe that we can find all of the information about our family by going online and searching in their databases.

Genealogy Myth No. 5
Genealogical family trees can be traced back to Adam.

This is a particularly persistent myth that seems to defy contradiction. The people who believe this myth will defend their position with extensive arguments, none of which are based on any kind of facts but which, to them, are perfectly persuasive. This is has also been beaten to death recently online.

Genealogical Myth No. 6
With all the new online tools, there is no need to be a genealogist anymore to do your family history.

This is a relatively new myth being passed around just outside the genealogical community. I hear it from time to time, usually said by some one who professes to know nothing about genealogy.

Genealogical Myth No. 7
With all the online family trees, there is no longer a need for a desktop genealogy program.

This is one of the hardest myths to respond to. The reason is simple, this may yet become true sometime in the future. As for the present, this is still a myth.

Well, I might think of a few more and maybe my readers can think of some more, but most of the other things I thought of were a lot more controversial.


  1. It's interesting to ponder on how many of these myths can be traced to marketing and too demographic analysis by marketing departments.

    The distinction between genealogy and family-history stands alone in this respect, and is the probaby only one I would debate with you James.

    1. I, too, disagree slightly with the genealogy vs. family history "myth." Technically, even when family history is used in the genealogical sense there is a slight difference, but that's only when you go to the strict dictionary definitions.

      From what I've read in discussions within the past year or so, though, "family history" has two different meanings -- our use, meaning we're studying the history of a particular family, and the "mainstream history" use, meaning the history of families in general.


  2. You provoked a response! :)

    1. Why would I claim it a myth if I didn't want a response? :-)

  3. I have to reluctantly have to agree with your myth #7. I did not want to have to deal with a desktop application and fought it for a long while. But we started taking trips to courthouses and cemeteries and I want to filter on certain facts or print out specific information. That's when it became VERY apparent that I needed a desktop application. I hate days when I have to sync my trees. I'm out of business for more than a day.