Sunday, March 20, 2011

Open Discussion Weekend - will brick walls become a thing of the past?

Last month, released this information regarding trends in online family history. There's not a lot of surprises in the trends, but it seems like some of the numbers presented are staggering.

Source: graphic created for public use by
The online sites showing the greatest growth from December 2009 to December 2010 are,, My and and appear to be remaining steady. Why the surge in and Are the TV ads working? How about the hour-long infomercial Who Do You Think You Are? on Friday evenings? I say that tongue-in-cheek, but Ancestry does a nice job of product placement in the TV series, in addition to being one of the paid sponsors. Can a television show spike online usage? Apparently so.

But how does one explain the 182 per cent growth at It's a subscription based site as well. The annual fee is considerably less than Perhaps that is what makes it attractive to some users.

The demographics of users wasn't surprising either - mostly female, and an older demographic than the typical internet user.

What I found more interesting was the increase in select Google search terms between August 2007 and December 2009. There is a definite burst between December 2008 and July 2009. What triggered the increase?

But the really exciting numbers are at the bottom of the chart - the number of digital images that are becoming available.

  • Number of books scanned for Google Books: 15 million
  • Obituary pages on 7 million
  • Records from the 1940 Census to be released in 2012 from the National Archives: 130 million
  • Records indexed by in 2010 alone: 160 million

These numbers are staggering! At this growth rate, in 10 years will we be looking back and saying, "Oh yeah, remember back when everyone used to have brick walls? Genealogy used to be so difficult."

Even with all of these millions of documents, it certainly takes some skill to know how to dig into the deep web to find exactly what you're looking for. Is the day coming that all of our genealogy research will be done online?

Please offer your opinions in the Comments section below


  1. Goodness, no, it can't be true. For every brickwall ancestor you find, there are two new mysteries - their parents. It's exponential. Also, eventually you are back before written records and no one can break through that wall! I'm at that point with many lines, and so will everyone else sooner or later. There are plenty of mysteries in the world that were never recorded on paper.

  2. My research is based in the UK and primarily North Wales. I still have many brick walls that I can't seem to get past.

    The surge in shows such as Who Do You Think You Are and Heir Hunters has, of course captured the public interest, because of this it is now more profitable for the bigger companies to put genealogical information online in a digit format.

    Howvever you can't beat looking at the original documents so there will always be a place for Tue "offline search".

    Many records from North Wales are not available online as the Church in Wales only allowed a selected number of BTs be transcribed by the LDS.

    My brickwalls will be stood for a while longer I thinly.

  3. For some ancestors, the paper trail is scant. Even if all of what exists for them is digitized, it may not be enough. DNA? Some lines are dying out. And usually the farther back you go, the less of a paper trail there is. So no, I don't think brick walls are a thing of the past. However, the current trend is for all of the "low-hanging fruit" to be picked, so at some point I think it will take skilled and persistent researchers to find new information and break through the brick walls.

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