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

Friday, June 27, 2014

What do Search Trends Tell Us About Genealogy?

Google has a product called "Trends." Search trends show the relative interest in any search term over time. In the short term, such trends have been used to spot the outbreak of disease, such as flu epidemics. The idea here is that what people search for on Google is a measure of the interest they have in the subject. As an example, here is a screenshot of the Google Search Trends on the term "World Cup."

It may seem trivial and obvious, but the search terms peak every four years when the World Cup Football Championships are held. I have talked about this in previous blog posts some time ago, but thought an update was in order. Google correlates peaks in searches to specific news stories. Here is another generic example using the search term, "presidential election."

Of course, Google searches reflect global interest in a specific topic, but it is still interesting to see the spike in interest corresponding to the periodic nature of the elections. But what about terms relating to genealogy? Here is a comparison search for the terms "genealogy" and "family history."

First off, this does not mean that there has been an overall decline in interest in genealogy. This graph show a relative interest based on all online Google searches. What it does mean is that there is more and more "noise" online. That is, there are more and more searches and any one topic, such as genealogy gets a smaller piece of the overall attention of the people in the world. Let's look at the trends for the big genealogy companies,,, and bear in mind the the word "ancestry" can be the basis for searches in lots of different contexts.

The waypoints on the red Ancestry search really do correspond to It looks like the search term "ancestry" is a hot topic and getting more popular. Let's take ancestry out of the picture and see what happens with the other three:

Now this starts to get real interesting. You can see the steep upward curve of MyHeritage beginning when they started the company. You can also see a big peak in MyHeritage in February, 2010 corresponding to what? The huge British genealogy conference, Who Do You Think You Are? held on the 26th through the 28th of February, 2010.  FamilySearch shows a dramatic downward trend through 2010 with a slow upward trend since that time.

What if I use the search terms "" and "" Here is the results of that search:

This is very interesting. It shows that a substantial part of the searches on the term "ancestry" alone might have related to other subjects rather than It also shows that has done a really good job of keeping its name before the public.

It is pretty difficult to come up with genealogy related terms that relate only to genealogy. Any generic terms such as "family" and "history" alone, will include a huge number of searches that have nothing to do with "family history" or genealogy. Many of the terms I cam up with did not show enough volume to produce a graph.

If you want to see how popular genealogy is compared to any other pursuit, you can do searches on the comparison. For example, how about genealogy vs. football?

That was highly predictable. But what about something such as gardening?

Now this gives us something to think about. At one point in the past, genealogy was much more popular as a search than gardening, but over time, gardening has stayed about the same and genealogy has declined. Also, interest in gardening peaks every year in May. What about something really active such as cycling? How does that compare to genealogy?

Like gardening, interest in cycling depends on the season of the year. You can try this out yourself on Google Trends.

My conclusions are consistent with what I have written in the past. Genealogy is not a fast growing interest in the world. It is slowly moving into the background noise of the Internet. It is also not one of the most popular past times as is often stated. If you want to see what I mean, just try something totally off the wall such as comparing "genealogy" to "Doctor Who."

Try and figure out what this means.


  1. It means that something really significant has to be done. I understand that Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, at a June 25, 2014 Seminar with New Mission Presidents, has changed emphasis on worldwide missionary activity, to promote conversion that is centered on the goal of all receiving Temple Covenants. This is like columbine tractor harvesting, by bringing in the sheves of wheat, by family units, instead of individual plant stems. [Elder Nelson said mission presidents can measure success by having, “the grandchildren of your missionaries, and the grandchildren of those whom your missionaries baptize, to be endowed and sealed in the temple. We want multi-generational families of faith. God wants His children to return to Him, converted, endowed and sealed as families!”]

    The Church First Presidency is also now promoting tithing as a method of preparation, for eventual celestial transition to the law of consecration, where families can live together in Christian peace. From a genealogical research specialist standpoint, and as a former LDS Ward Clerk, I still see a glaring omission within the Church system of administration, related to genealogy and family history, which may significantly alter present worldwide interest trends. If the missionary program becomes more Temple (family) oriented, should not also this program be integrated into the calling of current Ward or Branch Historians, who keep sub unit Church history? I had the experience years ago of reading the sustaining of officers of the ward, and was taken aside by one individual who later said it was the first time in his life he had ever heard his name be spoken of, in full, which quite impressed him in a positive way. Personal recognition is a powerful retention tool, that reflects "complete cooperation among the bishop, ward council, ward missionary leader and full-time missionaries. They work as partners. They sense their combined responsibility to care for the spiritual life of each precious son or daughter of God.” In my opinion, Ward and Branch History records should be reported annually containing not just genealogical statistics, but currently compiled and constituted family units, sealed, civil, and single. This places the local family history consultant, into the holy, elevated position of the ancient Biblical Scribe. [Ezra was a priest and scribe, who kept the record of the heads of their fathers' houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king] Thus, families as family units, become an integral (not a casual or sub peripheral) part of the Stake family and the Church family, and continue forward, year after year and generation after generation, for all the world to see and glorify God (follow suit, and increase social interest on the Internet).

  2. Hi James,

    I used Google trends a few years ago and noted the increase in the interest in searches in Ancestry once TV advertisements started down under. Also noted a difference in terms more predominantly used when comparing UK, USA, Australia and NZ. Back then Genealogy was the most used term in NZ, Family Tree in Australia, Family History in UK and Ancestry in USA. But that was before the increase in adverts for Ancestry which I gather is now the most commonly searched for term in all main english speaking countries.

    Also found three key spikes during each calendar year when there was a significant increase in those searching for genealogy in Australia and New Zealand - one being over the Christmas/New Year period, another being at Easter and the third over the winter months, dropping off once spring arrives, no doubt when everyone can get out into the garden.

    What I do wonder is whether all the TV advertising means less people are google searching, they are just going straight to the web address. So the "drop" might not be soley due to an increase in internet noise...


    1. I have noticed exactly the same trends. There is always an increase in interest right after the first of the year then slowly decreasing until the next year end. Since I finally stopped watching TV at all again, I can't comment on TV advertising.