Monday, August 30, 2010

The Perceived Age Demographic in Genealogy

Thomas MacEntee over at High Definition Genealogy has written a very thought provoking article about the perceived age demographic in genealogy.  He discusses a recent article in Family Tree Magazine that focuses on young genealogists while noticing that the surrounding advertisements target a much older generation.

Here are some of my thoughts in response:

Genealogy Conferences

I definitely believe that the age perception garnered from a genealogy conference is not accurate.  As Tina and some of the other commenters to the blog post have mentioned, money is an issue.  The older generation is the one with the expendable money and free time to spend on such events.  Young adults (gen-x, gen-y) are too poor or too busy trying to build a career or going to school.  And young(ish!) families have huge time and budgetary constraints.  Until recently I was an under 40 genealogist (oh, how quickly time slips by!).  While money was not always the issue preventing me from attending a conference, time constraints and managing a family definitely were.  Though I would love to attend a national conference I have yet to do so. 

The national genealogy conferences often come at times that are difficult for parents and gen-x/y students.  The NGS conference typically occurs in April while school is still in session.  Parents can't attend if they have K-12 students still in school.  And most gen-x/y students are still attending college classes.  Similar problems occur with the FGS conference, though it tends to vary its schedule in a more helpful way.  Often FGS is held the same week as the start of K-12 school, a particularly stressful (yet joyous!) time for parents.  This year however, it was held a few weeks earlier in August rather than September which was most helpful. Until the national conference organizers are willing to change the dates of the conferences the demographic won't change.


I think the same thing applies to magazine subscriptions.  The older generation has the extra income to spend on such things.  The younger folks, on the one hand get their information more from the internet rather than printed material, and on the other, they also seek out free sources on the internet to save money.

Where can we find an accurate metric measurement?

A demographic breakdown of subscribers would probably provide a more accurate view of genealogists but it would still be skewed more toward the folks that have money. And it would exclude all the users who access at libraries.

I don't believe there is any one source that can provide an accurate assessment of who genealogists are.  The genealogical arena is broken down into too many "channels", in much the same way that the main stream news media shifted over the years from three major network channels to an information free-or-all on the internet.  For instance, if we could analyze the viewers of Roots Television perhaps we would discover a much younger demographic and find those genealogists who prefer to absorb information through video.

The next question

Instead of analyzing traditional venues for a clue to genealogical demographics, perhaps the question we should be asking is where are today's genealogists getting their information? And what are they looking for while they are there?


  1. Marian, as I've read over all these things posted recently on demographics I wonder if we are missing an important question? Shouldn't we be wondering what it is that makes a person of any age want to know who they are? I've been a genealogist since 1995 and I've always been disappointed in the numbers of people who could care less about their ancestry. I'm stunned when I find a person of any age who actually knows their grandmother's maiden name and I'm downright elated when I find one that knows the name of a great grandparent. I was in my early 40s in 1995 and the genealogists I met then were not computer genealogists and were mostly much older than me. Back then it really did seem like an older person's "hobby" and I felt I was before my time, so to speak. But now we can look around and see that lots of younger people have the "disease" (LOL!), so really, MY question would be: When there are so many who never give it a thought, what is it that makes that one person want to know where they came from and how they got here?

  2. Lisa,

    Good question! Olive Tree Genealogy is kind of tackling this same issue by asking the reverse question:


  3. Very astute observations Marian and I hope this dialog continues in the genealogy community. Your post has gotten my analytical juices flowing in terms of genealogy conferences and accessibility for those who can't attend. I smell a new post coming on! Stay tuned.

  4. Your points for the younger gens are spot-on. The only reason I was able to attend FGS in 2007 was because I had a work project that was in Indiana that late summer, and my boss let me arrive early to attend the conference. Any trips I take I have to save up vacation time, and since I only get a certain number of days a year, I tend to use them for visiting family. I actually saved up a week's worth of vacation time from last year so I could go on a genealogy trip to Salt Lake City with the local genealogy society in April.