For a presentation I'm giving, I want to indicate how many people in the world there are doing genealogy and/or family history, and how many users there are of the more popular genealogy programs (including desktop, web-based, and other).

Are there any sources with such figures that I can cite from?

  • My own skepticism revolves around not knowing precisely how the Harris Polls may have identified or included genealogy as a leisure activity in their surveys. What percentage of the respondents do not consider ancestral research as a "hobby" or "leisure time activity," but rather as a means of some amount of livelihood or even a bit of of compulsion? Although it can be immensely satisfying, I've never found my genealogy research to be anything other than intense and educational, whether for my own interests or in assisting others with their genealogical quests. (see comment below for rest)
    – user1505
    Sep 11, 2014 at 1:46
  • Hi, @Ryder, I've converted your post to a comment because it doesn't answer the question. Sorry the end got cut off. I've left a note to the other mods to see if that can be fixed.
    – Jan Murphy
    Sep 11, 2014 at 22:44
  • This is the remainder of @Ryder's comment: "In my experience there ain't much that's leisurely when it comes to genealogy research. Plenty of rewards and satisfaction, though. Some amazing discoveries, too!"
    – PolyGeo
    Sep 11, 2014 at 23:15

3 Answers 3


"Today, genealogy ranks second only to porn as the most searched topic online. According to a January 2012 report by market research firm Global Industry Analysts, an estimated 84 million people around the world spend anywhere from $1,000 to $18,000 a year in search of their ancestors. Visitors to online genealogy sites are mostly white women, 55 and older, who browse the Internet from home—or, says Pate, “your Aunt Betsy, who’s got a real rabid appetite for digging into family roots.” It’s a demographic projected to grow 36 percent by 2020, three times as fast as any other group."

Source: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-20/ancestry-dot-coms-genealogical-juggernaut

The full version of the multi-company research report they are citing from Global Industry Analysts, from January 2012, seems to be available here, for $1450: http://www.strategyr.com/GOS.asp?code=GOS-144 That would probably have more a more detailed breakdown for you.

Additionally, I would estimate that the number of people who have taken genetic genealogy DNA tests (although many take them for reasons other than genealogy) is probably approaching the one million mark today. It was reportedly over 700,000 as of 2009.

  • 2
    Wow! That 84 million is almost an unbelievable number (over 1% of the world population) and I'm not even one of them since I don't spend $1,000 on genealogy a year. Therefore, I'm also not willing to spend $1,450 for the report.
    – lkessler
    Nov 6, 2012 at 0:15
  • 1
    I was horrified by the $1000 threshold; until I jokingly suggested to my wife that (even at retail prices) the coffee I drink at my desk could not cost more than ... oh dear!
    – Fortiter
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:36
  • @Fortiter - I'm a gold Starbucks card holder - but I'm not yet an Ancestry.com subscriber.
    – lkessler
    Nov 6, 2012 at 4:34
  • 2
    It really is hard to take that figure of 84 million people around the world spending over $1k/yr seriously. Assuming that nearly all are in the rich 10% of the world (the rest can't afford that), and limiting it to adults, it's around 1 person in 6 spending over $1k a year on genealogy. Utterly unrealistic, either something has been taken out of context in the press release (quite likely) or somebody has extrapolated from a tiny sample of people leaving an expensive genealogy conference. To put it another way, only 3% of those high spending genealogists have an Ancestry subscription?
    – Rob Hoare
    Nov 6, 2012 at 6:25
  • 1
    You need to be aware that "research" reports like that are funded by the same companies that they cover. In this context, "multi-company" means that Ancestry and one or two other people paid for the right to determine the questions, the research methodology, the demographics, etc and then review the results before they were published. Clearly Ancestry and their PE backers are not disinterested parties in how numbers like this look.
    – Tom Morris
    Nov 30, 2012 at 13:36

Looking around, I've found this Oct 22, 2012 article at Tech Crunch which says what the largest web-based service is:

Ancestry.com is the world’s largest online family history resource ... for its 2 million-plus subscribers.

Ancestry.com's Form 10-K Annual Report Mar 8, 2011 tells us about the top selling genealogy program:

Family Tree Maker is the leading family history desktop software on the market, with over 1.7 million units distributed since 2004.

An Oct 24, 2012 ABC report by Alan Farnham about Permira's $1.6 billion purchase of Ancestry.com says:

Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but hobby experts believe that genealogy ranks second only to gardening as American's favorite pastime.

As for how much bigger it might grow in future, Sullivan says: "Think about the last big family Thanksgiving dinner you attended. If there were 18 people, chances are that at least one of them is interested in family history. If you apply that same metric to our existing market, we think there are 20 million potential customers for our services. Today, we're serving on 2 million. We think there's tremendous potential."

If (a big if) as Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of Ancestry.com said: 1/18 was the ratio of people interested in family history worldwide, then there would be about 400 million people interested in family history.

  • 1
    In the case of non-commercial software, you may be able to use Sourceforge stats to get a measure of downloads. For example 288,000 copies of Gramps since Jan 2010
    – Fortiter
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:46
  • 3
    I would suspect one user would do multiple downloads, since there were 12 new versions of GRAMPS since Jan 2010
    – lkessler
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:52
  • 3
    Then there's shareware at some of the software download sites, e.g. at cnet which shows download counts in the tens and hundreds of thousands for the various programs. But these and other download counts include people trying software, and not necessarily becoming users of them.
    – lkessler
    Nov 6, 2012 at 3:58
  • Just as Family Tree Maker numbers are inflated by try-before- buy. I know that I have several copies on various computers, but I am not a "user".
    – Fortiter
    Nov 6, 2012 at 4:10
  • 1
    @Fortiter - FamilyTreeMaker is commercial software. You have to buy before you try. There is no demo program. And there is no return policy. Therefore, most purchasers would be users.
    – lkessler
    Nov 6, 2012 at 4:24

Dick Eastman wrote at length on the supposed "overwhelming popularity" of family history as a hobby in 2009 as How Popular is Genealogy? He is appropriately skeptical.

Set against the "4 in 10" Dick was asked to respond to, "more than 1%" seems a conservative claim. I have seen several (unsourced) references to "hundreds of millions" of genealogists. All of that must be read against the fact that genealogy (or family history) does not reach even 1% in Harris Poll surveys of leisure activities in the US.

One way to look at the (relative) popularity of on-line resources in the genealogy and family history sector is Alexa; with the usual caveats of how to use information you get for free on-line.

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