By Kimberly Powell
January 15, 2002
Of the many visitors who travel to Salt Lake City on vacation or business each year, hundreds of thousands make a side trip to the Family History Library, the world's most popular destination for people in search of their ancestors. The great library, run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and open free to everyone, traces its own roots back to 1894. It boasts the world's largest collection of family history resources - over 2.2 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records, 742,000 microfiche, 300,000 books and 4,500 periodicals - with records from more than 100 countries, covering everything from 14th century English church records to African oral histories. An average of 2,400 people, including many visitors from Europe and Asia, visit the library each day. It can actually be easier and cheaper to travel to Salt Lake City and find all of the information in one place than to have to travel from one small town to another to gather records.
North America's Fastest Growing Hobby
Visitors line up outside the Family History Library waiting to research their family tree. On average, 2,400 people visit the library each day.
- For a hobby that revolves around dead people, genealogy is remarkably popular. It is considered by most to be the fastest-growing hobby in North America, with many surveys and media sources proclaiming that it has surpassed quilting, stamp collecting and even gardening in popularity.
- Interest in genealogy is growing at an astounding rate according to a 2000 Maritz Marketing Research poll, which found that up to 60 percent of the American population is interested in their family history. That's up 15 percent from a similar poll conducted in 1996.
- It's not just Americans either. Overwhelming demand recently forced the British Public Record Office to take the brand-new England and Wales 1901 census Web site offline temporarily amid fears the entire UK telephone network could be paralyzed by the tremendous demand (millions of visitors exceeded capacity by a factor of 20 during the first days of operations).
- Traffic to popular genealogy Web sites demonstrates the growing interest in tracing family history online: for example, the FamilySearch Web site of the Family History Library gets six to seven million hits per day.
- The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in October 2001 declaring October in the U.S. as Family History Month. Led by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and co-sponsored by 84 other U.S. Senators, the resolution stated "within the last month some 14,167,329 people researched their family history and 24 million people have used the Web and email to locate or hunt for family or friends with whom they had lost touch."
- The Internet genealogy industry is worth an estimated $200 million annually. Popular genealogy Web site Ancestry.com, which achieved the 500,000 paid subscriber mark in December 2001, is the third-largest paid subscription site on the Internet and is closing rapidly on ConsumerReports.org and WSJ.com.
Why is genealogy fast becoming more popular than stitching a quilt or pruning the roses? According to Kim Farah, spokeswomen for the Family History Library, it is because genealogy touches on a fundamental need. "It's universal, it crosses all faiths and cultures. Finding out who you are is in each of us. The positive benefits of knowing our heritage, of the sacrifices others have made for us, gives us a sense of responsibility and self-esteem."
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© 2002 Kimberly Powell and About.com. All Rights Reserved.
Family History Library image © 2001 Shearer Images.
Used with Permission.