There are lots of blogs out there to help you learn how to do family history research. This blog lets you watch our progress as we roll the Canadian Genealogy Survey out across the country. We'll also track developments in research on family history. It's a bit of a twist, but we hope you'll find something of interest. We welcome your comments.

If you haven't taken the survey yet, you can find it at:

Saturday, 10 November 2012


That ultimate new technology guy Finch on the TV serise "Person of Interest" (CBS Thursday evenings) raised another important question for genealogy practice.  The "Machine", a super computer central to the plot line of the series is a genealogist's dream machine, virtually connecting people across time and space with access to all the virtual vital records one could imagine.

 In last week's episode they had to find someone who seemed out of reach of the machine in a deliberate case of identity theft.  To find out something about the culpert Fitch  had to revert to old fashioned techniques, phoning local libraries and posing as a genealogist to acquire material about his subject that was outside the reach of the machine.

The apparent ease of his access to information while posing as a genealogist comments on the faith people in information institutions have in genealogists; but the obverse seems to be an indication of the fragility of on-line resources. What other depictions of genealogists have we seen in popular culture?  A CSI episode was focussed on one last year and the subject of an earlier post by me; and I am anxious to read those novels by Steve Robinson that John Reid noticed in an earlier blog this past week.

Turned out that the Person of Interest in the show was a bad-guy gone good; so the arc of the story was as always to resolve everything in favour of good guys.....

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Do you post your family history information online?

...more results from the Canadian Genealogy Survey.

When we asked family historians if they had posted their family tree on the Internet, 57% responded 'No', but 40% answered 'Yes'. Then we asked, 'Why/Why not?' and the answers we received were both expected and unexpected. First, the 'expected.' People said they posted their family tree information online to 'give back.' And that made good sense to us since, in general, volunteering and giving back seems to be something that is very much a part of the culture.

Second, the 'unexpected.' Most people who said they had not posted their family tree info online said it was because they 'weren't ready yet' or 'didn't know how.' We found that a bit surprising since we expected to see a lot more people citing privacy concerns.

So, when I had the opportunity to speak with the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society recently, I asked them to help me understand this response. Two things stood our for me in their comments: 1) Ancestry's software facilitates keeping some information private, most notably, information about people still living, and 2) some family historians imposed their own limits on what was acceptable to share, uploading information only for certain generations. (In other words, they didn't rely on the software to 'hide' the information, they just didn't provide it in the first place.)

So, what is your approach to sharing your family tree info? Do you post any and all information online? Or, do you selectively post information only for family members who have passed away? Are you concerned about privacy issues? Or, as my students (almost all of whom are under 25 years of age), tell me, do you believe that privacy is 'dead'?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What do you plan to do with your research?

Thanks to all the OGS, Ottawa Branch members who shared their ideas with me last Saturday. And thanks to Mike, Heather and Tania for inviting me!

One of the questions we asked in the Canadian Genealogy Survey was what people planned to do with their family history research. Here's what they said (note that the numbers add up to more than 100% because we invited people to contribute more than one response):

  • 79% plan to pass it on to their children
  • 57% plan to publish it in some format (book, website) available to family members only
  • 29% plan to share it online
  • 26% plan to publish a book that would be available to all

What was really interesting was that when people had the opportunity to write in a response in the 'other' box, the plan most frequently mentioned was to donate their family history to a local history or genealogy society. And, these results were the same regardless of whether the person completing the survey was a member of a genealogy society or not. 

What do you plan to do with your family history research?

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ottawa Branch, OGS meeting, this Saturday

I'm looking forward to talking with members of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society at this Saturday's meeting about some of the results from the Canadian Genealogy Survey. More info on branch meetings can be found on their website Hope to see many of you there!

Friday, 12 October 2012


This discussion is enriched by a very recent thesis by Jennifer Kathleen Matthews Land, “From Gravestones to Google: The Impact of Internet Adoption on Genealogists’ Information and Communication Behavior,”   (PhD thesis (Information and Library Science), University of Alabama, 2012).  She addresses the issue of internet impact from two theoretical perspectives:  the notion of a community of practice as a way of discussing linkages between genealogists through their common objectives and methodologies, etc.  The second, “Diffusion of Innovation” theory, looks at adaption of new technologies by users as a patterned response with various impacts and consequences. 

The thesis surveyed about a thousand members of various user groups within the discussion groups.  It was done electronically and the questions paralleled ours to some extent, but emphasize questions of the utility of on-line sources for research and the communication. Her findings are summarized as follows:

“Two research questions framed the investigation: How does use of online genealogical resources impact genealogical research? How do online genealogical resources support interaction among genealogists? The study found that the Internet has influenced the frequency with which genealogists engage in research. The majority of users conduct genealogical research at least three days per week; prior to Internet adoption the majority engaged in genealogical research no more than twice per month. Users assigned high ratings to the Internet for usefulness and ease of use, although they assigned lower ratings of confidence in accuracy to materials obtained online than to those obtained offline.  The Internet has added communication methods such as email that supplement the methods available before Internet adoption, and users reported more frequent communication with other genealogists than pre-adoption. Participants currently encounter other genealogists who are unwilling to share information with similar frequency to the number of pre-Internet encounters. The numbers of people who willingly share information is unreported. Because communication has increased and the rate of unwillingness has stayed relatively constant, the number of cases of information sharing appears to have increased.”

Many things can be discuss in this very interesting thesis, which is more or less restricted to U.S. based genealogists; but one of them is not genealogical societies.  The few references are either in the deeper historical past, or in the references to various earlier publications. Users were asked about membership, but it was not discussed in the thesis, apparently of little or no importance. 

So, has the internet replaced the genealogical society and the archive?  Most of the respondents to the survey indicated that archives were seldom used and genealogical societies were not seen to be very relevant.  Instead, new-age genealogists are smitten with the on-line resources without troubling to think about where those records come from.  And, while there is little discussion of the range of archival sources, there is a lingering distrust of material that exists in only digital form.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Why Do You Belong to a Family History Society?

In my last post I mentioned the research conducted by Ronald Lambert among Ontario Genealogy Society members. Reading through his discussion of his results, one of the things we wondered about was whether all family historians were 'alike' or whether there was some difference between those who join family history societies and those who don't. So when we set out to survey family historians we made a special effort to 'get the word out' to those who might not be members of any society.

What we found when we analyzed the results is that while there are some differences, they are quite small. It seems that although the majority of family historians who answered our survey were not members of any genealogy or family history related societies (about 63% overall), both men and women seemed to join in equal proportions (35% for women, 38% for men). The average age of members was 60 years and for non-members 64 years. More than half of both groups (57%) reported having a university-level education and about the same proportion were married (74% for non-members; 72% for members). A somewhat higher proportion of non-members were retired (61%) than members (49%), and non-members had, on average, been actively working on their family history for 19 years, compared with 15 years for members of family history societies. The one difference that seemed to stand out was that for family historians with high school or less education, a larger proportion were members of family history societies.

It seems that basic demographic factors don't really explain why one family historian decides to join a family history society and another doesn't. So we're left to wonder, why do people join family history or genealogy societies? If you're a member of one or more societies, what is it that makes you want to be a member?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Thanks to everyone at BIFHSGO for the great reception last Saturday. I promised we'd start posting some of the results on the blog, so here's the first installment.

One of the things we were interested in was whether family historians had changed much over the years. In other words, with all the advertising that Ancestry is doing, has a new gang of young people all of a sudden 'got the genealogy bug'? We compared our results with those of sociologist Ronald Lambert, who surveyed members of the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) in the early 1990s. Here's what we found:

In 1994, Lambert's survey of 1348 OGS members revealed that:

  • 63% of family historians were female
  • 54% were 60 years of age or more
  • 50% had a university degree (bachelors degree or more)
  • 47% were retired
  • 72% were married
  • the median number of years survey participants had been involved in doing family history was 14.

Our 2011 survey of 2000 family historians from across Canada revealed that:
  • 64% of family historians were female
  • 59% were 60 years of age or more
  • 53% had a university degree (bachelors degree or more)
  • 57% were retired
  • 73% were married
  • the median number of years survey participants had been involved in doing family history was 15.
So it seems that while a few more of us are retired, pretty much the same people who were interested in family history then are interested now, at least if we're looking at demographics.

If you'd like more information on Lambert's survey, some of his articles are available through Global Genealogy. Here's the link to the first: