Survey to Examine Genealogists' Internet Habits
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak
I've been doing genealogy for more than thirty years now, and while
I'm grateful to have had the "old school" experience of conducting
all my research via snail mail and on-site research, I couldn't
imagine having to function without the Internet now. People tend to
have strong opinions about Internet usage, but regardless of your
perspective, there's no disputing that it's had a tremendous impact
on the way we all do our personal sleuthing.
And that's at least one of the reasons why Australian doctoral
candidate, Kylie Veale, is studying "the activities, opinions, and
attitudes of genealogists who use the Internet for genealogy" as
part of her Ph.D. thesis. She hopes through an online survey to
learn how genealogists use the Internet and to gain insight into the
consequences of the development of genealogy as a significant
Internet-based activity. The survey is open to any resident of
Australia, the United States, New Zealand, the United Kingdom,
Ireland, or Canada who uses, or has used, the Internet for any
About the Researcher
Like many of us, Kylie is addicted to genealogy. She's been pursuing
her own roots since 1994. In her case, the trigger event was
learning that someone in her family had been a foster child. As she
explains, "I guess the bug caught me then. I've also been using the
Internet for the hobby since 1994, so I understand all the glories
and pitfalls the Internet can bring to the pursuit."
She elaborates, "Initially, during my Masters degree, I found myself
incorporating my hobby of genealogy into my class projects, as it
seemed sensible to combine my two passions: genealogy and the
Internet. Therefore, I explored projects such as an interactive
website for the adoption lifecycle, and looked at virtual
representations of physical cemeteries to aid online genealogical
research. Very soon, I started thinking about the entire use of the
Internet for genealogy--the social and technological benefits of the
medium to the millions of people around the world--which fell in
beautifully alongside my academic and professional interest in the
social aspects of the Internet. I'd also been a web business analyst
professionally for several years, so I guess my personal,
professional and academic worlds all fell together into a Ph.D. on
genealogy and the Internet."
Why Study Genealogists?
Considering our numbers, genealogists have been vastly under-
studied. Only a handful of in-depth surveys have ever pried into our
motivations, our habits, and our demographics. Kylie has an
interesting perspective of why that might be:
"Genealogy has long been a debated a `lesser' pursuit amongst
academic circles, particularly when pitted against history as an
academic genre. However, genealogists such as Elizabeth Shown Mills
have been arguing that genealogy can be embraced by history
academics as a part of their methodology, not just the poorer second
cousin. So in that respect, I am trying to raise genealogical
awareness within the international academic circle.
"When we look to the Internet as a medium, it is often heralded as
a `boon' or having had a major technological, social and
methodological impact on genealogy, though there is little
documented evidence in any of these areas. I find studies about
genealogical use of archives that touch briefly on the Internet, and
small online surveys about specific tasks for a genealogy website,
though again, no empirical research to really understand what this
large group of users `do' on the Internet.
"Genealogy has been found to be one of the largest leisure topics on
the Internet, but I was very surprised to find that no one had fully
explored the phenomenon--someone who can bridge the gap between
academia and genealogy as a hobby or serious leisure. That is
largely my aim. And of course, I hope that my findings will
contribute to the improvement of the Internet world for genealogy."
Toward this end, Kylie already has plans for sharing her results.
During the running of the survey, she'll make some demographic
statistics available on a page within her Ph.D. research website.
When the survey is completed, she'll send a report to all
respondents who indicated they wished to receive it, and, of course,
she'll also write about her findings in assorted articles in both
the academic and popular press.
Help Kylie Help Us!
Film fans will recognize that I'm borrowing a line from Jerry
McGuire here, and, yes, the circumstances are entirely different.
But the intent behind the words is the same. If you have perhaps
thirty or so minutes to spare, please help Kylie with her Ph.D.
research so that her findings might in some way ultimately benefit
the world of genealogy. And let all your roots-seeking buddies know
that they can also participate in The Internet Genealogy Community
Study. There truly is strength in numbers and this is an opportunity
to demonstrate ours.
Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, co-author (with Ann Turner) of the
recently released Trace Your Roots with DNA: Using Genetic Tests to
Explore Your Family Tree (as well as In Search of Our Ancestors,
Honoring Our Ancestors and They Came to America), can be contacted
through www.genetealogy.com and www.honoringourancestors.com.
- Middlesex Genealogical Society
(January 29, 2005, Darien, CT)
- Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society
(February 12, 2005, Pittsburgh, PA)
- Fairfax Genealogical Society
(March 12, 2005, Vienna, VA)
- Lancaster Family History Conference
(April 1-2, 2005, Lancaster, PA)
- Central Jersey Genealogical Club
(April 12, 2005, Mercerville, NJ)
- Ohio Genealogical Society Conference
(April 14-16, 2005, Akron, OH)
- Oklahoma Genealogical Society Spring Seminar
(April 30, 2005, Oklahoma City, OK)
- Orange County Genealogical Society
(May 14, 2005, Goshen, NY)
- New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
(June 18, 2005, New York, NY)
- Iowa Genealogical Society Annual Fall Conference
(October 6-8, 2005, Clive, IA)
- Monmouth County Genealogical Society
(November 13, 2005, NJ)
Details and links to upcoming events.