Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Americans Lack Family History Knowledge

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2008 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at

A survey conducted a few months ago by The Generations Network reports that few Americans know very much about their family trees. Among other facts, the survey discovered that:

  • One-third of Americans cannot name any of their great-grandparents.
  • Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.
  • Six out of ten Americans do not know both of their grandmothers' maiden names.
  • Twenty-two percent of Americans don't know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.
  • Although America is known as a nation of immigrants, 27 percent don't know where their family lived before they came to America.

Is this a problem or an opportunity? Commissioned by and conducted by zOmnibus Survey, the survey does make some positive statements. For one, the survey reports that 83 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds are interested in learning their family history. Following closely are the 35- to 54-year-olds at 77 percent and Americans aged 55+ at 73 percent. It strikes me that there are millions of Americans who have at least a casual interest in their family trees but have no idea how to get started. I am particularly impressed that younger Americans reportedly are more likely to be interested in their ancestry than are senior citizens. That is the reverse of what I would have expected.

This is an opportunity for commercial companies and non-profit societies alike. A potential marketplace exists. The biggest difficulty is in identifying that audience and reaching them. Traditional advertising methods are prohibitively expensive. What we need is "grass roots" advertising. That's where you come in.

In your casual conversations with non-genealogists, you might ask a few questions: Where does your family come from? What did your grandparents do for a living? How about your great-grandparents? Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family? Can you remember any family stories that were told to you as a child? Do you believe those stories are accurate? Did your family have any memorable holiday or other traditions that were passed down from previous generations?

Of course, when the other person says, "I don't know," you should be ready to step in with a few suggestions of good books for beginners, the address and meeting dates of a local genealogy society, and perhaps a few web sites of genealogy interest. Hey, send them to THIS web site!
If you and every other genealogist in this country can start "spreading the word," we can greatly increase the percentage of Americans who do know about their roots.

You can read more about the survey at

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