NEW YORK — How much do you know about your family tree? For many folks, it’s not very much. A recent survey finds that a third of Americans can’t even name all four of their grandparents, incredibly.
While DNA kits that trace one’s ancestry have surged in popularity over the years, there are still plenty of people who don’t seem to care too much about where they came from. The survey of 2,000 Americans showed that a third of respondents struggled to climb the branches of their family tree beyond their grandparents.
One in five couldn’t even name one of their great-grandparents.
“In recent decades, we’ve seen a major upswing in interest when it comes to researching family history, and this is largely due to the accessibility of historical information,” says Jennifer Utley, Director of Research at Ancestry.com, which commissioned the survey, in a statement. “This valuable historical data is helping people paint a picture of their past.”
It wasn’t just names of relatives that respondents failed to come up with either. A fifth didn’t know the city that any of their grandparents were born in, and 14 percent had no idea what their grandparents even did for a living.
On the bright side, many participants have put in the time and effort to learn about their background. Half of those surveyed say they’ve researched their heritage be it through family tree books, official records, or using an online service. Six out of ten also are aware of the country their last name comes from, and 65 percent were able to name the country or countries their relatives came to America from.
Thankfully, most do wish they knew more: eight in ten say they care about their family history and feel it’s important to find out where they came from. Utley says it’s easier than it seems, it just requires a little bit of work and outreach.
“Most family history research starts with oral history, listening to the stories passed down from generation to generation,” she says. “Conversations during holiday gatherings can help us discover more than just what country our relatives migrated from, but also who they were as individuals – their stories, their dreams and lessons learned.”
As for what kind of information participants said they’d like to learn from their grandparents or great-grandparents, 72 percent were interested in hearing stories of them from when they were young, 62 percent wanted to know where their family came from, and half simply wanted some life advice.
Interestingly, only 40 percent of respondents were interested in their grandparents’ medical history. Just 37 percent cared about the work their grandparents did, and slightly less (36 percent) wanted to hear about the best places they’d traveled to in their lives.
The survey was conducted by OnePoll in December 2018.