From gravestones to Google: The impact of Internet adoption on genealogists' information and communication behaviors

by Land, Jennifer Kathleen Mathews, Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA, 2012, 159 pages; 3511037


Genealogists are a community of practice (CoP) that has largely embraced the Internet as a research tool. Genealogists' use of the Internet was investigated using a case study of users of, a subscription-based online genealogical resource. Data were collected using an online survey, allowing information and communication behaviors to be examined through the lens of diffusion of innovation (DoI) theory. All study participants are Internet adopters; they adopted at all levels (from innovator to laggard), and each level comprises participants from the entire age range of the study group.

Two research questions framed the investigation: How does use of online genealogical resources impact genealogical research? How do online genealogical resources support interaction among genealogists?

The study found that the Internet has influenced the frequency with which genealogists engage in research. The majority of users conduct genealogical research at least three days per week; prior to Internet adoption the majority engaged in genealogical research no more than twice per month. Users assigned high ratings to the Internet for usefulness and ease of use, although they assigned lower ratings of confidence in accuracy to materials obtained online than to those obtained offline.

The Internet has added communication methods such as email that supplement the methods available before Internet adoption, and users reported more frequent communication with other genealogists than pre-adoption. Participants currently encounter other genealogists who are unwilling to share information with similar frequency to the number of pre-Internet encounters. The numbers of people who willingly share information is unreported. Because communication has increased and the rate of unwillingness has stayed relatively constant, the number of cases of information sharing appears to have increased.

The findings and their implications for library and information science (LIS) practitioners such as archivists and librarians, as well as for LIS educators and online genealogy resource developers, are discussed.

AdviserElizabeth Aversa
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsLibrary science; Communication; Information science
Publication Number3511037

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