Recent Family History survey results, part three

I started reviewing the recent family history survey conducted by Myles Proudfoot in two earlier posts. This post continues the comparison of results among respondents identifying themselves as amateur genealogists vs. those identifying themselves as professional genealogists.

Question 12 in the family history survey asks, “Where do you go to do your family history research?” The question allowed for multiple answers (“Check all that apply”), so the percentage of respondents selecting each option must be examined individually, rather than as a percentage of the whole.

The following options were selected by those identifying themselves as amateurs and professionals:

  • “I stay at home.”
    • Amateurs: 91.4%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In public libraries.”
    • Amateurs: 70.3%
    • Professionals: 80.5%
  • “At the facilities of genealogical societies.”
    • Amateurs: 45.8%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.”
    • Amateurs: 48.1%
    • Professionals: 69.9%
  • “On site where original records are kept.”
    • Amateurs: 57.3%
    • Professionals: 92.9%

This survey shows significant difference in a few of the repositories being used.

There is a slightly higher percentage of amateur genealogists that conduct research “at home,” presumably online. But this is not surprising.

In similar manner, there is a slightly higher percentage of professional genealogists that research at public libraries. I am curious about this statistic, specifically because there are at least two independent reasons to research at a public library. The first is for Internet access. There are still quite a few people out there who do not have home Internet access, and use this service at the public library. Or alternatively, use Ancestry Library Edition rather than paying the annual subscription fee. The second reason to research at public libraries are for the local history collections that many public library systems hold. These collections often include microfilm (or originals) of local newspapers, and unpublished manuscripts or low-print-run local history books. I wonder if the percentages would have been different had these two independent reasons to use the public library been broken out into separate options.

The next three responses show far greater disparities between amateurs and professionals.

Almost 80% of professionals, while less than 50% of amateurs claimed to research “at the facilities of genealogical societies.” Genealogical (and historical) society libraries often hold original material unavailable elsewhere, including surname files, manuscript collections, and even original government records. In some states, the historical society functions as the official state archives.

But I think that this statistic is even more telling of a phenomenon about which I have heard quite a few genealogical societies complain. In the 21st century, online communities have blossomed while membership in many local genealogical societies has stagnated. While professional genealogists may be more knowledgeable about some of the resources that are available in genealogical societies, many amateur genealogists simply are not aware of either the record resources or the immaterial resources (such as the knowledge of older society members) that genealogical societies provide.

The survey also recorded a great difference in those who researched “in an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.” Once again, less than 50% of amateur genealogists selected this option, while just under 70% of professional genealogists selected it. This was quite surprising to me. Amateur genealogists, that is, those who research their own families have a much greater need to research at Family History Centers. Very few families stayed in one place for very long, so tracing a single family back will generally involve the need to access records from several different locales. Furthermore, amateur genealogists are not limited by the time constraints that often face professional genealogists. Waiting for microfilm to be delivered to a local Family History Center is far less of a problem for amateur genealogists.

Finally, the survey reports that 57.3% of the amateur genealogists, and 92.9% of the professional genealogists research “on site where original records are kept.”

Researching in original records is vital to genealogy research. As a professional genealogist, many of my clients hire me to help them move past persistent brick walls. In my estimate, close to 80% of all of these problems are solved using records that are only available in their original paper form. They have not been digitized, nor even microfilmed. In many cases, these records have never even been indexed, transcribed, or abstracted. Instead, the research involves hours of page-by-page searching through unindexed original records, a tedious process to be sure, but the reward is great!

Additional survey results will be reviewed in future posts.

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