The One Genealogy Myth That Must Die!

Popularity of Genealogy

For the past decade or so, genealogists have not lived up to their standard of proof when it comes to one particular myth. It’s time for the myth about how popular genealogy is, compared to other online activities, to die.

Genealogy is the second most popular hobby in America. Second, only to porn or gardening, depending upon the survey you consult.

I’ve heard this myth for the past 20 years, at least. Be warned, I’m going to rant a little rant because I want to put this myth to bed. I want it to die.

Genealogists pride themselves on citing their sources.

Honestly, this is one of the things that distinguishes genealogy from a lot of other academic pursuits. That isn’t to say sources aren’t relevant to other academic pursuits, there but it seems like sources are paramount in genealogy, to the near exclusion of everything else.

You need to have sources.

A video where a viewer wanted to know if citations were overdone.
You can see that citations are a big deal to genealogists.

So for this academic group, where sources are paramount, the fact this myth is still around is mindboggling.

The sources for the myth about genealogy’s popularity

TIME suggested genealogy is nearly as popular a porn.
Time wrote about this. According to Time, genealogy is almost as popular as porn.
ABCNews suggested genealogy is nearly as popular a gardening.
ABCNews suggested the hobby was second to gardening.

“…hobby experts believe that genealogy ranks second only to gardening as American’s favorite pastime.” –

– ABCNews

According to ABCNews, genealogy is second to gardening in terms of popularity.

USAToday discusses the roots of genealogy's popularity
USAToday discusses the roots of genealogy’s popularity

USAToday beats Time and ABCNews and includes a reference to gardening and pornography and genealogy’s second place rank in popularity.

The Problem With These Sources

Here’s where the problem begins on Time and ABCNews. These articles include no sources for their statistics. What report tells us those hobby experts believe genealogy is second to genealogy in popularity? What measurements rank genealogy close to porn?

Journalism isn’t known, of late, for citing their sources but in these articles, they are being lazy. They have a link to the Ancestry website. If journalists can get a source for Ancestry, they should have a source for the ‘hobby experts believe.”

However, USA Today does provide links for both of these of statements and where they’re getting that information. If you follow the links, the “second most popular to gardening” statement goes to a book entitled “Genealogy and Indexing.”

That book cites the Marist Poll Service released a report about the genealogy-gardening popularity. On the Marist Poll Service website, when we search the website for genealogy, there are no results. When we search for hobbies, the results have nothing to do with genealogy. I searched the entire site and found nothing. That does not it didn’t share a report in the past, it means it’s not on the website now.

“Genealogy and Indexing” was published in 2003. The Marist Poll archive only goes back to 2002. If the book published in 2003 mentioned a “recent poll,” the publication date could have been in 2001 or earlier. In any case, it appears Marist Poll hasn’t taken another poll about hobbies and genealogy since the ‘recent poll’ was released and referenced in the 2003 book.

From a citation standpoint in a book about genealogy and indexing, you would hope that their citations are quality. However, we still haven’t seen anything that says genealogy is second to gardening for popularity.

When examining the popularity of genealogy as a website category, we click that link on the USAToday article. The link takes us to an article in Family Tree Magazine from 2003, which is just 15 years ago.

Family Tree Magazine puts out a lot of great stuff, but in this article, we have a problem. The very first paragraph says, “homegrown sites have helped make genealogy the second most popular topic on the web behind only pornography.”

Guess what.

No sources state where this information came from!! There is no poll. There is no survey. There is only a statement from somebody saying, “hey this is the second most you popular thing next to porn.”

Now nobody’s disputing that porn is highly sought after content. But to compare genealogy to porn is like saying, “we’re almost at the pinnacle of popularity. We also know gardening is popular. Ranking second to working in a yard means would mean that genealogy is super popular.

But so far, these news articles have failed to provide the proof of the popularity. They just keep repeating the myth. And it’s not just news services perpetuating the myths.

News services aren’t the only ones who get it wrong

I went to Google, and I just typed in, “is genealogy the second most popular hobby?”

A search for genealogy's popularity

I reviewed the first few pages of results, and I picked out the genealogists.

A blog post on cited USAToday, which we’ve shown doesn’t prove the popularity of genealogy.

In 2017, Ancestry, not some subsidiary but the big A, cited the Time and USAToday articles which aren’t quality sources because the news articles cite no sources that back up the claims. They are just repeating statements someone else shares without vetting them.

Ancestral Findings, Dick Eastman and others repeat the myth verbatim. It’s not just a few blogs. It’s not bad genealogists that keep repeating the myth. It is pretty much all genealogists.

I’m harping on this because genealogists like to harp on sources. I’m terrible at sources. I am the guy that attaches records on FamilySearch, and then I’m done! If you want to know how to write a citation, I’m the last person to ask, but I can see that there’s nothing here!

The Validity of Genealogy’s Popularity Has Been Questioned Before

Not all genealogists have bought the myth. There is one noteable exception – James Tanner. He wrote about it twice:

Snapshot of James’s blog post Hobby Claims about Genealogy are Unfounded

James Tanner essentially said he was not finding anything to support the popularity claim. In 2016, he had already figured this out. He did a Google search for the most popular hobbies.

Guess what’s not on those lists – ANYWHERE!!!

That’s right – genealogy.

Thank you, James Tanner! You’ve got it right.

Stats Kill the “Genealogy is as Popular as Porn” Myth

When you look at the numbers, genealogy is not second to porn or gardening. For a great report, that logically examines the data, visit this website.

You can also listen to the rest of my rant and see the stats I use to debunk the myth about how popular genealogy is (or rather isn’t).

Once and for all, genealogy IS NOT as popular as porn or gardening. It’s not even close. It’s not even in the top 100! Don’t believe me – watch the video.

Genealogists aren't supposed to believe in myths, but this one keeps being spread around and really should die! #genealogy #myths #research
Andy Lee

Andy Lee

Author, Engineer, Educator. Andy Lee is the DNA guru of Family History Fanatics. He is also your knowledgeable but casual genealogy researcher.

2 thoughts on “The One Genealogy Myth That Must Die!

  1. I have always suspected the myth began with the TV program ROOTS and an unknown polling organisation then asking its victims if they had ever wanted to check on their ancestors. A vast majority was reported as answering in the affirmative, and consequent simple arithmetic produced figures suggesting family research to be the second most interesting subject for online research. Certainly, ROOTS did produce a boom, but for many it appeared to be short-term. Perhaps a fair judgment would be that genealogy may once have been, for a few weeks, the second favourite research subject in North America.

    May I, having just listened to your video clip, raise another matter? Our mutual interest is pronounced “GeneAlogy”, not “GeneOlogy”.

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