Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Increasing involvement in genealogy in the Church

One of the challenges facing the genealogical community is the demographics of the average genealogist. If you use my blog as an example, my average reader is over 55, a female, has a college or university degree and has no children at home. From my perspective, as I attend genealogy conferences all over the United States, I can confirm this demographic each time I look out at those attending my presentations. Unless the class has been arranged to include a larger group, such as all the people in a Ward or Stake, the demographics of the attendees always match my blog readership.

Personally, I see no problem with the current demographics of those interested in genealogy. However, there has been an almost constant background discussion, all be it one that has little attention from the community, about the need to involve a younger demographic in genealogy. I have written blog post about this issue from time to time, but it seems to me little progress is being made.

From the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the concern about involving a younger demographic stems from the statistics that only a small percentage, less than 3%, of the Church's members are involved in genealogy to the extent of submitting names for Temple work. It seems one obvious solution to this problem would be to involve younger people in doing genealogy. I guess my question is why is that an obvious solution? One reason I would ask such a question is that there is such a paucity of real statistical data about who makes up the genealogical community so most assumptions about the community at large are based on speculation and, like my own opinions, personal observation.

In all this there is one large nonconforming fact. It appears from the streaming list of new members on the MyHertitage.com website, that those putting family trees on MyHeritage from around the world are much, much younger than the demographic as it appears to be in that part of the genealogical community attending conferences. Whatever it is that MyHeritage.com is doing, it seems to attracting exactly those individuals sought by the Church and by the larger genealogical community. If you would like to see what I am talking about, you go to MyHeritage.com and scroll down to the bottom of the startup page, and take a look at the Member Map. Here is a screenshot of the bottom of the MyHeritage.com startup page with an arrow showing the location of the link:


You will then get a link to open the "Member Map" showing the present number of members of MyHeritage.com and a streaming slide show of the new members who are signing up for the program. Herr is a screenshot of the page showing the ever-changing new membership. You may also want to click on the map to view the number of MyHeritage members in various parts of the world. You can hover your cursor over the flags that appear to see the exact number in any country.


This MyHeritage.com map is worth exploring for a number of reasons. It shows dramatically that at some level there is a huge interest in genealogy, even to the extent of putting a family tree online. Again, it would certainly seem from the numbers of younger people involved that there is some need that is served by MyHeritage that is being missed entirely by the larger genealogical community as it is presently viewed. 

I would think that the first thing we would need to do is find out exactly who is "doing genealogy." To my knowledge, this kind of information is not available. In addition, there is no standard definition for genealogy or family history or any of the the associated activities. Any such definition would have to include those involved in MyHeritage.com and similar activities in other online programs.

In addition, there is no standard way to measure a person's interest in actually doing family history research, assuming you could come up with a definition of genealogy or family history. Some of the polls cited on the subject of overall interest in genealogy, fail to define the subject matter of the survey. People are asked general questions about their interest in the their family and ancestors. The way to determine interest is to see how many people are participating in genealogical activities, such as the comment made about Church members involvement and the number of people involved in Indexing or utilize one of the major online genealogical database programs. All of these methods would give us a practical standpoint for having a discussion about whether or not involving the youth in an activity will lead them to involvement in finding ancestors needing Temple work. What has MyHeritage done to attract many more members than there are in the entire Church membership? Currently, according to their website, MyHeritage.com has over 71 million members. That should say something to those pushing for more involvement of the youth. There must be something being done by MyHeritage that is missing from the generally perceived genealogical community.

One interesting observation that comes from the MyHeritage.com Membership Map is the number of people on MyHeritage.com in my own states of Arizona and Utah. The numbers (I will let you look them up for yourself) are many times greater than any other indication of involvement in genealogy would indicate. Who are these people and how do we involve them in the genealogical community as it is now composed? Are we who consider ourselves to be "genealogists" looking at genealogy in a completely inappropriate way? It would seem from the numbers of members of MyHeritage.com that both Arizona and Utah must have members of the Church on that program who are otherwise not involved in their Wards and Stakes in genealogy. Why is that? Maybe the key to involving more of the members in genealogy is sitting right there online with MyHeritage.com and all we have to do is figure out why the answer is staring us in the face. 

2 comments:

  1. I am not LDS, but I am often confused as being LDS because of my age and interest in genealogy. And while I can't speak for everyone, I can share my own observations:

    There are more young people involved than you know. We may not be involved on a consistent basis or in a traditional sense. I get emails from people all the time - they are busy recording interviews with grandma and grandpa or tracking down records online, but then they take a break to go on a study abroad trip or do an internship or start their career or get married or whatever. For whatever reason, they get pulled away from family history for a time and then come back.

    And many are afraid of getting involved because they are so different and people like to point it out. I walk into a genealogy library or archive or meeting and people stare at me. They aren't doing it to be rude, but it happens. They are shocked, surprised, amazed that I am there. Many assume I am a beginner and have no idea what I am doing. It used to be really overwhelming for me and I'm sure it is much harder for those that are shy.

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    1. I certainly understand your concerns and agree. The larger genealogical community is not as consistently composed of older women as it might appear. It took me years from when I started doing genealogy in my 30s to attend my first conference or class on genealogy. But when I finally did attend, I was certainly not a novice.

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