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How Popular is Genealogy?


At GenealogyInTime Magazine, we like to think outside the box. In this article, we tackle a fundamental issue: How popular is genealogy? The answer, it turns out, depends on the specific question being asked. We examine the evidence and take a hard look at the facts. In the process, we dispel some common myths and misunderstandings about the popularity of genealogy.

If you were to ask 100 people if they have any interest in learning more about their ancestors, the vast majority of people would say ‘yes’. After all, everyone has ancestors. If it were not for our ancestors, we would not be here today. To put it another way, by design, everyone is inherently interested in their ancestors.

Genealogy surveys that ask such broad questions will naturally result in broad interest. These types of surveys give the appearance of genealogy being very popular. Over the last several years, there have been several published genealogy surveys that have taken this approach. But is this truly representative of genealogy?

Now go back to those same 100 people and ask a slightly different question: would you be prepared to commit significant time and resources to learning more about your ancestors? You don’t need any deep insight to realize most people would say ‘no’.

The difference between these two questions (Are you interested in your ancestors? versus Do you want to devote time and resources to finding your ancestors?) is what fundamentally lies behind the confusion as to the popularity of genealogy. Ask the first question and genealogy looks to be very popular. Ask the second question and all of a sudden genealogy looks to be a much smaller pastime.


Why Genealogy is Different

Genealogy is not like other pastimes. In fact, it is not really a pastime at all. Genealogy is a field of study that is integral to the human condition (see the article Why Genealogy is Important). As a result, it is perhaps more relevant to talk about levels of interests rather than just a single interest when discussing genealogy.

The diagram below illustrates the concept. It is GenealogyInTime Magazine’s interpretation of the interest levels in genealogy. Interest is divided into four groups. Each group in the diagram is essentially a subgroup of the previous (larger) group.

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