The Growing Popularity of Genealogy: why it’s a good thing
I read an article today that confirms what many of us have now suspected for a few years: genealogy has become a mainstream hobby. According to the author, family history is now a billion-dollar industry that is America’s second favorite pastime (behind gardening). I imagine people have always been interested in their heritage, but technology has made this information well within reach. People want to know where they come from and how they got here. This mass interest in family history is good news, right? It depends who you ask.
I’ve heard the cynical mutterings from experienced researchers: “Nowadays, everyone’s a genealogy expert.” The ancestry.com commercials make it seem so simple. Just click a few leaves, and you’re a genealogist. I am taken aback sometimes by the user trees I find where the researcher has little or no sources and seems to have just blindly copied things they found. I am a bit suspicious when someone traces their lineage all the way back to Noah’s Ark in one afternoon. Skilled researchers, please rest assured that your abilities are needed as much as ever before. Here are a few reasons why this new-found popularity is good news for those of us already deeply entrenched in genealogy.
1) Networking opportunities are at an all-time high. While local genealogical societies and workshops are still useful, mass communication has made sharing your family’s story a global endeavor. As more and more family historians set up blogs, Twitter accounts, and newsletters, we are able to connect as never before. This can enhance our skill set and give us an appreciative audience.
2) Professional researchers (and amateurs who don’t mind a little extra cash on the side) should view this as good for business. Growing interest in your field of expertise may bring competition, but it also means more potential clients. Even if people can find some of their story on their own, most will recognize their own limitations.
3) The more people who contribute to the conversation, the more media and documents become available. The commercial success of genealogy means more records will be digitized and made available. And that random guy who starts a family tree with no analytical skills or understanding of sources may be the same guy who has your great-great-great grandmother’s portrait in a family Bible in his attic. So use caution, but embrace the popularity!