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:

Friday, 29 July 2011


About four years ago now, a major study, Canadians and their Pasts, surveyed just over 3000 Canadians about their activities and attitudes toward the various pasts, including that of their families. One question in the activities section asked respondents if they had undertaken any research on the history of their families in the past twelve months. 659, about one in five respondents, reported having done such work in the past twelve months.
While there were no discernable differences based on where people lived, there was a marked difference in the age and gender of genealogists. (see graphic below) The stepwise age structure, advancing up to 65 then receding sharply, reflected the bias in our national sample, which included a large number of the baby-boomers of the post-WWII era, obviously the most engaged portion of the community. Almost a third of genealogists come from the 50-65 year old cohort a much larger proportion than the overall survey respondents, but also reflecting that population bulge that has so influenced all aspects of consumption in the past half century.

The gender distribution also reflected the national sample overall, though the proportion of women doing genealogy was higher for every age range than was the norm for the national survey. This also mimics what we see in various national surveys that have been undertaken elsewhere in the world.

We hope to have occasional postings about the genealogical community as revealed in Canadians and their Pasts.

Comments on this demographic profile would be welcome.

Genealogists by age and gender (n=659)

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


We have received some posts regarding eligibility to take the survey.

There is absolutely no restriction whatsoever. The news releases we sent out emphasized that we are planning a national survey; but because of limited resources and propinquity we decided to concentrate our first effort on Nova Scotia. It just happened that the Cape Breton Post was quickest to feature the survey in its news, prompting some additional publicity here. That has been very positive for the launch of the survey and we appreciate all the help we have been getting. Naturally they emphasized the local connections. but we want to assure readers that we have no intention of limiting the project to Cape Breton or to Nova Scotia.

But we are anxious to have as broad a clientele as possible. We will be undertaking publicity initiatives in other provinces a little later on. While we welcome survey completions from anywhere in country -- and the world for that matter. We he had a number of takers in other countries already, as well of course as from other parts of the country.

So; please feel free to take the survey now as it will all go into a common data base; but we will be able to sort for different locations as we go along.


How has the Internet influenced genealogy; are genealogists active users of social media? It's tempting to declare that genealogists invented social media. The so called "Golden Age" of modern genealogy (roughly from the 1970s to the 1990s) was characterized by a rapid expansion of the numbers and memberships of genealogical societies, as well as by the collaborative nature of the genalogical community that emerged. In many ways it was participation at the highest level of engagement; literally thousands of volunteers contributed to developing data bases, to which they could have only limited access via early cds and dvds, and which were likely to be of only occasional use for specific family searches on very scarce and small capacity computers. But the greater good required that censuses, vital records and gravestones be entered into searchable data-bases, which, in fact, largely preceded the internet as we know it.

Today much of that collaborative work of early digitization has been uploaded onto the web for instant consumption by people anywhere in the world, some of it facilitated by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints. As those data bases have become more sophisticated, they have also become monetized, with leading the way in efforts to corner a large part of the international market for family related data. The world us not entirely controled by such money making consortia; though even publicly funded archives now charge liberally for those precious hard copies of vital statistic records, etc.

Given that ours is an on-line survey it is not surprising that our respondents are virtually all on the internet; which confirms the finding of the Canadians and Their Pasts survey that those who engaged in family history were more lilely to have internet connections than those who did not.
A very preliminary look at the first 1250 people to fill in our survey confirms this finding in spades. The modern genealogist is vastly connected with the web through a wide variety of discussion groups and web-sites. Many are involved with face-book sites concerning their communities or family history searches. Social media is becoming an indispensible tool; though we have to do some more detailed analysis of the survey results to get a sense of the dimensions of the trend.

Cape Breton Post features the survey

Well... day two of the release of the survey has been equally interesting it seems. I did a number of interviews, including one which resulted in a favourable article in the Cape Breton Post by Ken McLeod, which appeared on-line yesterday and in print today. I have patched it in here. It is curious how this old time media gets around. Two Sydney radio stations called for interviews, including a session on CBC's Information Morning this morning. The spike in visitors to the blog was really noticible with these releases; though we are not sure how it has effected the survey just yet as we await a reading from our server in Ottawa.

Here is the CB Post article:

Carleton researchers launch Canadian genealogy survey in Cape Breton

Published on July 26, 2011

SYDNEY — Two Carleton University researchers have launched an online survey that seeks to understand the surge of interest in genealogy/family history.

The first stage of this national project is being piloted in Nova Scotia, starting in Cape Breton before moving on to the mainland.

Genealogy is one of the fastest growing leisure activities in Canada and elsewhere. Current estimates suggest that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of Canadians actively pursue genealogy/family history projects.

“The Canadian Genealogical Survey attempts, through a self-administered online survey, to gauge the nature of the phenomenon and its importance for those who undertake to travel to and visit sites of genealogical resources as well as those who do much of their work via the Internet,” says New Waterford native and East Margaree resident Del Muise, emeritus professor of history at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Our investigation seeks to understand the behaviour of genealogists in their research activities.

“With estimates of some 25,000,000 people in North America being able to trace their families back to Nova Scotia during the past 400 years, Nova Scotia seemed like the best place to start our data collection.”

Muise is joined in the study by Leighann Neilson, associate professor of marketing at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and a family historian herself.

“The survey will likely have implications for the many museums, archives and local libraries that have seen an influx of visitors seeking information on their family’s history,” she says. “We hope to gather information on who’s doing family history today and what resources they like to use. A key feature of our research will be to assess the inter-relationships between web-based research and onsite research.”

According to Muise, Cape Bretoners are active in tracing their roots through online social networking sites like Facebook as well as through local institutions such as the Highland Village Museum and the Beaton Institute at Cape Breton University.

“Cape Breton is a very highly developed area for geneology,” he says, but adds that the rising in interest in geneology isn’t restricted to any specific areas of the country.

“It’s everywhere. We did a different survey on Canadian’s attitudes toward the past, asking them what they felt was important to them; well over 50 per cent said they were keeping materials to pass on. On another question, 20 per cent had done actual work over the past 12 months on geneological research.

“It’s huge. And there’s no dicernible difference on a provincial basis.”

The typical person involved in geneological research, says Muise, is over 40, with a big spike at 55 to 65, the baby boomer generation.

“From the national survey, we learned that people didn’t normally get excited about geneology until middle age,” he says. “And the numbers are probably going to grow as people become more active (in searching out their roots.)

Muise and Neilson will be visiting many local centres for genealogy research this summer, promoting the survey. The survey is available online now at: For those interested in learning about the results of the survey, the researchers have created a blog,, where reports about the survey’s progress will be posted. Family historians, librarians, archivists and others interested in genealogy will be able to comment and offer opinions on the results.

“In a post-modern world, people don’t have a firm sense of being rooted,” says Muise, “so they pursue geneolpgy as a way of identifying an understandable past. One of the things we are trying to figure out is what people get out of it, and how will they pass it down.”

Monday, 25 July 2011

A LIVELY SURVEY INDEED! (almost 200 completed in first 48 hrs.)

Wow!!! We just heard from our survey coordinators and 191 people have completed the survey in the first 48 hours of it going live.

I suppose it proves one of our initial suspicions: ie. that genealogists are among the most active internet users out there.

We have just initiated our publicity campaign with "old fashioned" media such as posters and fliers and a press release to newspapers, and already we are scheduled for a few interviews.

We think that we have a well designed survey that we look forward to sharing with all of you as soon as we sort out how to access all your responses

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Canadian Genealogy Survey Goes Live!

Current estimates suggest that between 20% and 25% of Canadians are actively engaged in family history/genealogy research. We are academics and family historians who want to know more about this. We've created an online survey so you can tell us about your family history research. The survey takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. You can find it at:

As the results come in we'll post updates here. Follow us and see what other family historians are saying!