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., a commercial entity, and, 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," 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. 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

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs