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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Internet Usage in the U.S. and the FamilySearch Family Tree

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who wish to take their ancestors' and relatives' names to the temples can almost exclusively do so only by entering those names in the Family Tree. If they do not have the computer skills or own the computer equipment necessary to work online, they must rely on either the computers in Family History Centers, publicly available computers or rely on friends who have a computer connected to the internet. A recent Pew Research Center study entitled, "Internet and Broadband Fact Sheet" highlights some of the challenges of having just one, online access for temple ordinance submission.

According to the Pew Research Center fact sheet, roughly 90% of the U.S. population now use the internet. Of course, genealogists are included in these statistics. Following RootsTech 2015, The Ancestry Insider's blog published a breakdown of the demographics of those attending the Conference. The post is entitled, "RootsTech Attendee Demographics" and it has the following statistics:

RootsTech (hosted by FamilySearch) recently released some interesting demographics about 2015 RootsTech conference and Innovator Summit attendees.
RootsTech AttendeesInnovator Summit Attendees
Family history beginner37%21%
Family history intermediate46%46%
Family history advanced, expert, or professional17%33%
Technology beginner19%7%
Technology intermediate59%28%
Technology advanced, expert, or developer22%65%
Over 6529%8%
These figures correspond directly with my own observations and the historical demographics of those who read my blog posts. When I review the information provided in the Pew Research Center Fact Sheet, there are some interesting conclusions. Age, income, and education are the biggest factors affecting the number of internet users in any other category. Not surprisingly, the lowest adopters of internet use are those over 65 years old. While virtually all of the 18 to 29 year olds in the country are using the internet at 97%, usage by those over 65 is at 64%.

Current efforts to involve the youth in genealogy need to take into account another interesting statistic from the Pew Fact Sheet: 20% of the youngest group of internet users have access only thorugh a smartphone.

So here are some of the issues. First, efforts to involve the youth in genealogy have been very ineffective so far. The number of youth who are activiely submitting names to the temples is still disturbingly small and is further illustrated by the small percentage of youth attending RootsTech as shown above. In fact, current efforts to expand involvement are aimed at an age group that is not even measured by the RootsTech attendance percentages. Second even if efforts to increase involvement were aimed at the "over 65" group of users who already make up the largest percentage of those interested, this group consists of those who evidence the least usuage of the internet.

You would expect that if overall usage of the internet has increased dramatically, you would see a similar increase in the usage of the website. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. As I have shown by writing about the results of searches on Google Trends, searches for genealogy realated topics is showing an overall decline. See "Updated Thoughts on Genealogy Blogging and Pi Day." But more importantly, the only way to submit names is through a website that does not work well on many mobile devices, especially those without keyboards.

My own personal observation is that the teenage youth spend much more time on their smartphones and tablets than they do on desktop computers. If they do spend time on a desktop computer or a laptop, they are usually working on school homework or other similar mandatory tasks. So there is a major connection among the youth of desk top computer usage with compulsory activities. Getting them to sit down and use a computer for any serious purpose, other than game playing, is very difficult.

Maybe FamilySearch should seriously look at targeting the 18 to 29 year old age group rather than spending so much effort aimed at teenagers? Additionally, maybe they should also consider a larger emphasis for those actually interested in genealogy; those over the age of 55?


  1. These are all excellent points. I also think that perhaps the mid-singles would be a good group to target.