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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Can Family History Bridge the Gaps?

Over the past few years, the large online genealogy companies have spent millions of dollars selling their products. Recently, some of the largest companies have created a new market for genealogy related products by selling DNA tests. Ultimately, however, all of the companies face the gaps in the demographics of the genealogy community: age and technological sophistication. For example, do the companies dumb down their products to increase their appeal to a larger audience or do they risk losing the hardcore genealogical community entirely by directing their products to the 18 to 20 something crowd who could care less about history and ancestry. As it is, almost none of the websites or advertising used by large online companies visually represent the main users of their products.

Underneath, these superficial manifestations of gaps between an anticipated, ever-expanding genealogical market and the reality of the demographics of those who are actually interested in genealogy, is a more serious problem: there are real gaps between those who are willing and able to do genealogical research and those who the large genealogical companies assume are their target markets. The success of selling DNA test kits has accelerated the widening of these gaps and will ultimately result in a crash in sales when the potential market for DNA test kits becomes saturated. The sale of DNA test kits is currently a classic example of a marketing fad. A fad product usually doesn't have much actual utility, which is one of the reasons sales drop quickly after the initial public fascination subsides. See "Fad: Definition & Examples." The utility of a DNA test lies in direct proportion to the amount of actual genealogical research done by the recipient of the test.

Long term, the only companies that will expand their genealogical customer base are those that can bridge the gap between serious genealogical research and the products they offer. For example, FamilySearch has introduced the concept of a "Family Discovery Center." This is a quasi-entertainment experience tied to some very basic genealogical concepts. The main challenge for the long term utility of the concept depends on whether or not FamilySearch is able to add value to the experience by adding technology. Once someone has visited a Family Discovery Center, what is the possibility that they will repeat the experience multiple times? Aren't the Family Discovery Centers in the same position as DNA testing in that repeat sales are unlikely?

But in both the DNA test example and the Family Discovery Center, the real gap is that between the initial experience and the utility of the experience considering the need for educated, serious genealogical research to take advantage of both. Herein lies the challenge. Can genealogy as a persuasion create a bridge over the gap between passive interest and valid research? Presently, there is no clear path to the bridge much less a bridge to cross absent an extensive and lengthy education process. If you want an easily observable metric for measuring the gap, we already have one: The Family History Guide. This one website encapsulates the basic instruction and knowledge that will begin the process of learning how to do adequate genealogical research. Rather than present essentially limited, dead-end experiences such as an isolated DNA test or a single trip to a Family Discovery Center, the path to the bridge is a systematic, structured and fully educational experience such as The Family History Guide. But as long as there is no clear connection between the needed education, i.e. The Family History Guide website, and the limited experiences, many potential genealogists will get stopped at the gaps. Simply put, The Family History Guide website is an excellent example of what the bridge between passive interest and competent research looks like.


  1. James is spot on with this post!

  2. I do understand what you are saying about the DNA testing. My husband is adopted and has looked for 50 years for his birth family. He found his birth mother years ago, but she didn't have a name for his birth Father. So, my husband was given a free copy of the MyHeritage program to help him search for his birth family - the problem is with My Heritage and also other programs we have seen is that they don't tell you what to do with the information we find. WE are the lucky ones for MyHeritage told him that he had a half sister - whom we know wasn't from his birth Mother. We wondered what to do with this connection and wrote to the person to exchange ideas. We also gave each other DNA kits for Christmas and his results from them were returned last week. It showed not only his half sister but actually said the persons name and "this is your father". He is so excited for his 90 year old Father is still alive and we found out he lives in our home town so we are trying to arrange a meeting. There are definitely problems with these kits but they can also open doors that almost 50 years of research for us couldn't do.

    1. Exactly, the DNA tests often open doors for the first one or two generations but then the research has to begin.