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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs