Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Why Study Genealogy?

I have been conducting research into my family
My paternal grandfather's Landing Card
history since 2006. I have traced my lines of descent back to Scotland (Gordon), Ireland (Scharf), England (Whitehorne), Germany (Flegel) and Denmark (Nielsen). I'm very interested in the social history of the Ottawa Valley and how events like the Great Fire of 1870 affected my family and the communities in which they lived.

I joined the British Isles Family History Society of Great Ottawa (BIFHSGO) to learn more about doing genealogical research. There, I found many people whose interests were similar to mine. The big joke in family history circles is that the best part and the worst part of doing genealogy research is that it's never done. 

Grandfather Neilson's passport photo
Thinking about my own family history got me thinking about why so many people today are interested in doing family history. It has been estimated that family history research is the second largest (after gardening) and among the fastest-growing hobbies in the US  (Harmon 2007) and the fastest growing leisure-time pursuit in Canada (Wilson 2003)., which promotes itself as "the world's largest online resources for family history," now has in excess of 2.7 million subscribers, who have created over 55 million family trees, profiling more than 5 billion family members ( Their adjusted EBITDA for the second quarter of 2014 was $55.4 million US. That's a lot of people checking out what their ancestors were up to!

In 2011, in collaboration with Professor D.A. Muise from Carleton's history department, I conducted an online survey of genealogists. Over 2,700 people responded, almost 2,000 of which were from Canada. When we asked them why they started doing family history research, 22% said it was to learn about their family, their ancestors and themselves. A further 13% said it was because a family member influenced them. Most often, it was a parent who asked for their help or wanted to pass along the materials they had collected.The third most frequent response, given by 7.5% of Canadian respondents, was that they were 'just curious.' 

My grandfather's business card
So how does this relate to a course in consumer behaviour? Well, one of the topics we're going to study this year is the influence of other people on our consumer behaviour. Our family members are a major source of influence, and I think it's really interesting to observe that they continue to influence us even after they have passed away. 

Is there anyone in your family who is conducting research on your family tree? How much do you think your family members influence what you purchase or how you choose to 'spend' your time? 

Harmon, Amy (2007), “Stalking Strangers‟ DNA to Fill in the Family Tree,” The New York Times, April 2.

Wilson, Ian (2003), “First person, singular…first person, plural: making Canada‟s past accessible," Canadian Issues, October.

1 comment:

  1. I saw commercials of on TV when I used to watch it. I think I asked my dad one time if I could try that website, but he said it wouldn't work for our family tree because of our Asian cultural background.

    If my ancestry was able to be found out though, it would be very interesting if it was linked back to consumer behaviour. For example if my early ancestors were masters of crafting clay pots. It would probably answer the reason why my mom enjoys looking at china sets and dinner wear.

    A more notable consumption behaviour that is passed around my family though, including my sister is probably saving money. My parents really like to save money, and it has really affected me as I turn off the lights a lot when I'm not using them or when I leave the room.

    I've noticed that the roommates I live with are very different from me. They like to leave the lights on, even if they're not using it. It got funny when one time I turned off all the lights when nobody was home and they were saying they couldn't see anything because it was too dark.

    Since my grandparents were part of world war 2, it would probably make sense that the consumption behaviour of saving money probably originated from there. As my grandparents from my Mom's side, as well as my Dad enjoy reusing old clothing. I never really see them buy any new clothes.