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Why do we pursue genealogy and what do we like about it?

Posted On: July 11th, 2008 | Posted by: Dean


Three days without a post — bad sign from a novice blogger. One of the things that impressed me about the participants in the recent Genealogy Blogger Summit was the consistency and frequency with which they post. I’m determined to follow their example, but I also want to get at least five hours of sleep! Sleep has won out the past few days. But enough blogging about blogging.

Revisiting our Customer Surveys

I thought it might be interesting to try to mine more insights from the surveys we administered to ChicagoGenealogy.com customers (and a few potential Genlighten users) earlier this year. To summarize the basic parameters: we surveyed 469 genealogy enthusiasts who had either ordered a document lookup from ChicagoGenealogy.com or met me at a genealogy conference during the last half of 2007 and early 2008. Roughly 230 completed the survey. 70% of them were female; 70% were also 50 years old or more.

One of the things surveys like this are supposed to do is help marketers define “personas” that reflect their customers’ preferences and behaviors, in hopes that the personas serve as a kind of shorthand for “who are our customers and what to they want?”. In theory, a good persona helps answer questions like “how many cupholders should we put in this minivan?” or perhaps more relevant to us at Genlighten, “what kind of navigation elements should our homepage have?”

We asked several questions in our survey that were aimed at developing personas from our potential customer base. The first asked basically “Why do you pursue genealogy research?” We offered six possible answers; respondents could also write in their own “other” response. The results are shown below:

survey question about primary motivations

“To feel a sense of connection with my deceased ancestors” was the number one choice, followed closely by “it’s a genuinely fun use of my time and skills”. No big surprises there for most of us, I suspect — those would probably have been my main choices too. Richer insights emerged in the “Other” responses, however. Two respondents thought genealogy helped them “to get a better sense of ‘who I am’”. And several others hoped their research would “leave a family legacy”.

Our next question tried to determine which components of the family history process respondents enjoyed most. It was basically a four-way tie among “pushing back further generations”, “finding source documents”, “sharing them with others”, and the narrow favorite “solving genealogical puzzles”. The average level of enjoyment for these activities fell between “Greatly Enjoy” and “Tremendously Enjoy”.

level of enjoyment survey responses

Given that we’re building a website that helps researchers get documents from distant archives without the need to travel there themselves, it was of course gratifying that survey respondents found traveling long distances the least enjoyable of the activities we listed. Whew!

Lessons Learned

Since the questions we asked (and the possible responses we offered) strongly reflected our own personal biases, the survey results didn’t yield as many startling new insights as we might have hoped. More open-ended short-essay-type questions might have corrected that, but the response rates to those kinds of questions would probably have been much lower.

The beginnings of some useful persona definitions did emerge. I’ll postpone a detailed description of them for a later post, but here are some key points we took away about Genlighten’s likely target audience:

  • They want genealogy to be a fun experience that builds lasting bridges to their ancestors
  • They see genealogical documents as key pieces of the puzzles they need to solve if they are to successfully reach back additional generations in their family history
  • Once they’ve found those documents and solved those puzzles, they’re eager to share what they find with others

These ideas are constantly in our minds here at Genlighten, and we’re determined to let them shape and refine the user experience we’re working hard to create.

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