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According to some sources, genealogy is the number one hobby in the United States1. Indeed, the percent of U.S. population interested in family history has increased from 45% in 1996 to 60% in 2000 according to a recent national telephone survey2.
Genealogy's popularity is also demonstrated by the number of genealogy-related World Wide Web sites. One search engine showed 7.2 million hits for the term "genealogy" and 1.8 million hits for the phrase "family history."3
Although interest in family history appears to be increasing, little is known about who genealogists are and why they pursue this hobby. The goal of this study was to learn more about genealogists and what needs are met by the pursuit of information about one's ancestors. Specifically, the following questions were investigated:
|To view archived survey, click below:|
The two-part survey was administered via the World Wide Web from March 20 to March 29, 2001. In this short time span, a total of 4,109 complete responses were received.
Participants were recruited on-line through genealogical newsletters, e-mail lists, discussion groups, and web sites. In addition, some participants were recruited in person at a genealogical convention in Southern California. Participation in this study was completely voluntary and no incentives were offered.
The majority of participants were female (72.2%), with at least one child (85.7%) and were currently married (78.6%). Participants were between the ages of 18 and 85 with an average age of 54 years. Participants' median annual household income was between $40,000 and $60,000.
Click here for a more detailed view of participants' characteristics, or choose a specific category from the list below:
The web-based survey was created utilizing SurveyWiz, which allows researchers to create and post surveys on the Web4.
Some of the questions used for the survey were loosely based on past research. Specifically, items regarding genealogical activities were based on questionaires used by Lambert (1996), Maritz (1996, 2000), and Sinko and Peters (1983)5. The generativity measures, the Loyola Generativity Scale and the Generative Behavior Checklist, were developed by McAdams, de St. Aubin, and Logan6.
The sense of place scale was developed specifically for this study by Pamela Drake and William Marelich, Ph.D.
Participants were nearly evenly split in their preference for the term used to describe themselves. The term "genealogist" was preferred by 39.7% of participants, and "family historian" was preferred by 41.5%. Another 16.9% preferred either a combination of the two, or an alternate term.
|These are just some of the creative alternate terms used by participants:|
Yes and no. The majority of participants in this study were female (72.2%); however, only 20% of the participants were what might be considered "elderly" (i.e., 65 or older).
Family history appears to be of interest to a wide range of ages with the strongest interest being in middle age, which is when the majority of people began their genealogical research. Therefore, the stereotype of genealogists being female and elderly was not supported by the participants in this study.
Participants in this study had been doing genealogy an average of 14 years, beginning their quest in 1986. Time involved in doing genealogical research ranged from less than one year up to 65 years.
Participants started their genealogical research at an average age of 40, with responses ranging from early childhood into late adulthood.
Seventy-three percent of participants stated that their earliest immigrant ancestors arrived in their current country of residence more than five generations ago, while the most recent immigration occurred an average of three generations ago.
|How many generations ago did your family/ancestors (first, most recently) arrive in the country you live in now?|
|      Immigration (%)|
|None, I am an immigrant||1.3%||1.8%|
|3, great grandparents||6.3%||22.9%|
|4, great great grandparents||6.7%||16.1%|
|5, great great great grandparents||6.5%||9.1%|
Yes. This study found that the participants were indeed generative. Individuals who are generative tend to be involved in sharing information with other family members, creating indexes of records, preserving family memorabilia, and documenting oral histories. They also encourage the sharing of records, the open distribution of materials, and the interconnection of persons.
Furthermore, generative concern and behavior were found to be related to genealogical interest and behavior. This finding further suggests that genealogists are generative individuals.
Level of genealogical behavior was measured by combining scores from the following five items:
- Involvement in in-person genealogical groups, historical societies, or heraldic groups.
- Involvement in internet-based genealogical groups, which include e-mail lists, on-line organizations, or chat rooms.
- Attendence at genealogical group functions such as workshops, seminars, and conferences.
- Tendency of traveling more than 20 miles to conduct genealogical research.
- Time spent doing independent work on genealogical activities, such as library research, letter writing, filing, updating computerized databases, etc.
Some of the more interesting findings follow. The majority (61.2%) of participants belonged to five or more on-line or e-mail genealogy or family history groups, with only 2.8% reporting they did not belong to any on-line groups.
However, only 14.2% belonged to five or more genealogy or family history groups that were not internet-based. Thirty-six percent of participants did not belong to any group, 33.7% belonged to one or two groups, and 15.7% belonged to three to four groups.
Furthermore, 42.8% of participants had not attended any genealogical functions such as workshops, seminars or conferences in the past year. The majority (89.8%) of participants, however, had traveled at least once within the past five years to conduct family research.
Participants in this study were primarily involved in on-line genealogy and family history groups, and traveled at least once in the past five years for genealogical research.
A strong relationship was found between genealogical behavior and genealogical interest. Specifically, if one is interested in genealogy, one tends to exhibit genealogical behavior, and as interest increases, the level of behavior also increases.
Genealogical behavior and interest were also found to be related to the number of years involved in genealogy. This relationship suggests that individual's genealogical interest and behavior increases as the number of years involved in genealogy increases.
The two generativity measures, generative concern and generative action, were closely related. This suggests that as generative concern increases generative action also increases.
"Sense of place" is the subjective experience of belonging to a certain environment or social community. It was found that an increased sense of place was associated with generative concern, which is a concern with leaving a legacy for future generations. This suggests that stronger generative concern may assist in the development of sense of place.
The number of times a person moved as a child, and as an adult, was also associated with sense of place. Unlike its association with generative concern, sense of place is inversely related to childhood and adulthood moves. In other words, the more a person moved, either as a child or as an adult, the lower their sense of belonging to a social community.
Years of doing genealogy was related to generative concern. This is consistent with past research that has found that genealogists are concerned with leaving a legacy and looking to the future.
The amount of genealogical interest a person has seems to be best predicted by generative concern, number of years doing genealogy, and a sense of connectedness to place within a given community. In other words, an individual who has higher concern for generativity, a higher number of years doing genealogy, and a higher sense of place or connectedness within a given community may tend to have a higher amount of genealogical interest than individuals less concerned with generativity, fewer years doing genealogy, and a lower sense of place or connectedness within a given community.
The amount of genealogical behavior a person has seems to be best predicted by genealogical interest, number of years doing genealogy, and a concern for generativity. In other words, an individual who has a higher concern for generativity, a higher number of years doing genealogy, and a higher interest in genealogy may tend to exhibit a higher amount of genealogical behavior than individuals less concerned with generativity, fewer years doing genealogy, and a lower interest in genealogy. Also, an interesting finding suggested that interest in genealogy may increase as a result of increased adult mobililty (times moved as an adult), but that genealogical behavior may decrease as these moves happen.
Web page designed by Sandra Wakcher and Pamela Drake. Web page contents, copyright 2001, Pamela J. Drake. All rights reserved.
For permission to use any portion of this Web page, please contact Pamela Drake
This information is presented here for those who participated in the Fullerton Genealogy Study. If you or your group would like to publish information from this study in any form, please contact me. As both a researcher and a family genealogist, I understand the need for public access to information. I also understand that as an author, I need to receive credit for my work. Please notify me before publishing information about this study or the web address. Thank you.
I also wish to express my gratitude to Cyndi Howells and Julia Case for their assistance in recruiting participants by publishing my recruitment request on Cyndi's List Update and the Missing Links: Rootsweb's Genealogy Journal newsletter.
Also, thanks to William Marelich, Ph.D., Duana Welch, Ph.D., and Kay Bathurst, Ph.D., for being the best thesis committee ever. Additional thanks to Michael Birnbaum, Chris Cozby and Terry Jones for their technical expertise.
Last but not least, thanks to my student assistants Sandra Wakcher and Rob Ahlborn.
If you have further questions about the study, please contact Pamela Drake at:
or through the Psychology Department at C.S.U.F. (714) 278-3514
Pamela J. Drake
Master of Arts in Psychology, August 2001
Outstanding Master of Arts in Psychology Award Winner, 2001
California State University, Fullerton
William D. Marelich, Ph.D.
California State University, Fullerton
To find out more about the Psychology Department at California State University, Fullerton, go to http://psych.fullerton.edu
or call (714) 278-3514.
References (for additional references contact Pamela Drake):
1   Rigby, W. (2000, November 21). Genealogy and family history. The 10 o'clock news. San Antonio, Texas: KENS.
2   Maritz. (2000, May 16). Recent Maritz poll shows explosion in popularity of genealogy. Public Relations Newswire. [Summary data available from Maritz Marketing Research] Retrieved July 16, 2001 from http://www.genealogy.com/genealogy/press-051600.html
3   Pew Internet & American Life Project (2000, May 10). Tracking online life. Retrieved July 9, 2001 from http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=11
To learn more about the prevelance of Internet use and its impact on society go to http://www.pewinternet.org.
4   M. H. (1998). SurveyWiz: Makes survey forms. [Computer program] Retrieved March 15, 2001 from http://psych.fullerton.edu/mbirnbaum/programs/surveyWiz.htm
5   Lambert, R. D. (1996). The family historian & temporal orientations towards the ancestral past. Time & Society, 5, 115 - 143.
Maritz. (1996, March). To what extent are you involved in genealogy? Retrieved July 16, 2001 from Maritz Marketing Research http://www.maritzresearch.com/files/results/p_70.tbl
Maritz. (2000, May 16). Recent Maritz poll shows explosion in popularity of genealogy. Public Relations Newswire. [Summary data available from Maritz Marketing Research] Retrieved July 16, 2001 from http://www.genealogy.com/genealogy/press-051600.html
Sinko, P. T. & Peters, S. N. (1983). A Survey of genealogists at the Newberry Library. Library Trends, 32, 97 - 109.
6   McAdams, D. P. (n.d.). The Generative Behavior Checklist. Retrieved July 19, 2000 from http://www.sesp.northwestern.edu/mcadams/foley/foley.html Also archived at http://www.letus.org/foley/instruments/GBC.html
McAdams, D. P. & de St. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity & its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, & narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 62, 1003 - 1015.