News / Science & Technology

Technology, Word of Mouth Help Genealogy Hit the Mainstream

Jack Goins poses with a photo dated to have been taken in 1898 of his great-great grandparents found through genealogical research, May 23, 2012.
Jack Goins poses with a photo dated to have been taken in 1898 of his great-great grandparents found through genealogical research, May 23, 2012.
Mike Richman
Two providers of family history resources recently made a groundbreaking deal that will streamline global access to genealogical records.

Ancestry.com, a commercial entity, and FamilySearch.org, a non-profit group, plan to put about 1 billion historical records online.  The records will include birth, marriage, death and immigration certificates once not obtainable on the Internet.

The deal between these two organizations, both heavyweights in the genealogy business, exemplifies the growing efforts to meet the hunger of people longing to research their family trees.

Genealogy, in fact, has become a global phenomenon.

A market research firm, Global Industry Analysts, says there are more than 80 million professional and amateur genealogists around the world.  It projects the market for genealogy products and services will reach $4.3 billion by 2018, nearly double from last year.

Sounds like there's a fascination behind tracing one's ancestry.

Information on the Internet

“Because of technology and everyone’s connectedness through technology, one, it is easier and less expensive than ever to make the world’s historic records available for people online," FamilySearch.org executive Paul Nauta said.  "But two, there’s a larger base of our world population than ever that is now connected through this worldwide technology, and they’re using it to socialize and communicate with each other.”

Dick Eastman edits an online genealogical newsletter.  He agrees that the capabilities to meet genealogical interests have increased, thus attracting more people to the practice.  There are about 10,000 online genealogical sites, he says, including many blogs.

“I think people have always been interested in genealogy and their ancestry," Eastman said.  "I think that’s been true for 100 years or more.  The difference now is we’ve got tools to satisfy that interest, whether you’re seated in your home or whether you have to go to a library someplace.”

Genealogy once was considered a pastime pursued only by older adults and the Mormon Church, a U.S.-based sector of Christianity that is renowned for maintaining genealogical records.  FamilySearch.org is aligned with the Mormon Church.

But family tracing is now of interest to people from different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds.  Eastman said many people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are now getting into it.

In addition to technology, Eastman credited exposure in the mass media with fueling an interest in unearthing one’s ancestry.  He said "Roots,” a wildly popular 1970s TV mini-series about African-Americans and slavery, served as an impetus.  Today, several TV shows focus on genealogy.

“So I can’t point my finger and say it’s any one thing, but when you look at the combination of these things, there’s a certain, I guess, synergy is the word between them," Eastman said.  "Each one kind of fuels the other, and people now who perhaps in the past had a very casual interest, now are suddenly thinking, `Hey, I can do that.’  And they do.”

According to Eastman, most people dive into genealogy curious about their ancestors and country of origin.  He said a desire to learn about inherited medical diseases also attracts people.  

"Who am I?  Where did I come from?  I am the product of these people.  Who were these people?," he said rhetorically.  "And I believe that most of the people start researching the family tree, when they start out they would be delighted to get back two, three, maybe four generations."

Amazing Genealogical Stories

Nauta and Eastman have both uncovered fascinating personal stories.

Using birth, marriage and death documents now accessible online, Nauta discovered that his family tree traces back to Italy in the late 1700s.
 
He also learned that he has first cousins, a woman and man, still living in the Italian town of Cagnano Varano.  He has met both of them.  They are living connections to his Italian ancestors going back more than 400 years.

“She’s been able to fill in the blanks for me and reconnect me with 400 years of my family history from this little town in Italy, all thanks to these records being more publicly accessible to people doing genealogical research,” Nauta said.  

Eastman learned that one of his ancestors was a French-Canadian man who lived in Quebec.  This man was killed by a jealous husband who found him in a “rather indelicate position” with the husband’s wife, Eastman said.

Eastman cautioned against believing ancestral stories without researching them.  For example, he once was told his great grandmother was an American Indian, but later learned that story was false.

“Your family’s going to have different stories, but some of them can be fascinating," he said.  "Just keep in mind the ones you heard when you were growing up, 50 percent of the time will turn out not to be true or only have just a little nugget of truth in them.”

Most of the people attracted to genealogy are in countries that have accepted waves of immigrants over the years, such as the United States, Canada, Argentina and Brazil.  Western Europe also is a big user of genealogy products and services.

With more and more family details finding their way to the Internet, that interest is not about to wane.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid