What Motivates Family Historians?

Last July I noted the OPL had acquired copies of The Psychology of Family History : Exploring Our Genealogy, by  Susan Moore, Doreen Rosenthal and  Rebecca Robinson.

In September Moore and Robinson published an article What Motivates Family Historians? A Pilot Scale to Measure Psychosocial Drivers of Research into Personal Ancestry in the open-access journal Genealogy. The findings are based on an online survey of 775 adult Australian women and men who self-described as amateur family historians,  aged between 21 and 93 years, with a median age of 63 years. 85% were women.

Participants were asked to assess 20 factors that might motivate their family history interest and to provide demographic and personality data.

Analysis suggested three dominant motivations: self-understanding,  altruism, and cognitive challenge.

“Individuals whose motives toward self-understanding were stronger were also more likely to be adopted, have half-siblings, and/or have had a DNA test. These associations independently suggest a lack of knowledge about biological and ancestral roots.”

“Higher scores on the altruism motive were characteristic of those who had more descendants and who were more generative, that is, oriented toward assisting and leaving a legacy for the next generation. The higher levels of conscientiousness and openness to experience of these individuals also point to a sense of personal maturity that might reasonably characterize those with the psychosocial resources to contribute toward the welfare of others, particularly with activities that strengthen family ties.”

“Those more strongly motivated by the cognitive challenges of family history research tended to be more highly educated and to spend more time on their genealogical activities,,, It indicates an interest in intellectual endeavours, puzzles and mysteries, and the at-times addictive quality of these interests.”

Additional motivations identified but not quantified were “spiritual/life meaning motives, comfort motives, making social connections, and travel enhancement. ”

If these Australian pilot study results are applicable elsewhere, and one needs to be cautious as the participants were largely Australia-born and did not reflect more recent immigrants’ concerns, they are food for thought for Canadian, and other, family history societies who want to better understand and serve their members.

The motivation questions used are below,  If enough people, more than 20, complete the survey I’ll post a summary.


If you want, post a comment on why you responded other.  Pertinent comments are always welcome.

3 Replies to “What Motivates Family Historians?”

  1. This pretty much describes me! “It indicates an interest in intellectual endeavours, puzzles and mysteries, and the at-times addictive quality of these interests.” Except I would remove the “at-times”

  2. My genealogy research 34 years ago started with wanting to know about my family lines as well as my husband’s Italian lines. As a professional Social Worker and child of divorce I realized knowing about the good, the bad and the struggles of family lines was my own kind of therapy. Putting a story to family members gave me incredible insight to me. So solving the mysteries of family and now writing family stories for my grandchildren will be my legacy. I love connecting with others who do genealogy. I can not wait to attending live meetings and conferences in the future.

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