Family tree stumped: Most Americans can’t name all 4 of their grandparents!

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NEW YORK — Familiar with your family tree? There’s a good chance you’re not. More than half of Americans don’t know the names of all four of their grandparents.

A recent survey of 2,113 U.S. adults, including 1,911 from the top 10 Nielsen market areas and 202 from Salt Lake City, found that there is a massive knowledge gap when it comes to recent family history. Knowledge of past generations varied by city, as 66 percent of Boston residents could name all of their grandparents, compared to only 26 percent of those in Philadelphia. San Francisco residents weren’t much better at 34 percent, while people in Chicago and Dallas only slightly higher at 36 percent.

As a whole, just 47 percent of respondents could correctly name all four grandparents.

The apple falls a bit far from the family tree

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Ancestry, the survey also reveals that only four percent could name all eight of their great-grandparents. When it comes to knowing the most about their family history, three in four people in Salt Lake City say they feel knowledgeable compared to 46 percent of those in Philadelphia.

Despite the knowledge gap, most respondents expressed interest in learning more about their family history (66%). In particular, over half the poll (51%) want to know stories about when their ancestors were young and what their were like at the time.

Most people claim to know the bulk of their family history from parents (43%) or grandparents (40%) relaying stories.

“Listening to family stories is a great starting point to learn about your family’s past, but some details can get lost as they are passed down for generations,” says Crista Cowan, Corporate Genealogist at Ancestry, in a statement. “Digging deeper into records, such as census records, can help fill in the gaps and add rich historical context about more recent family history.”



Catching up with the Census

On April 1, the 1950 U.S. Census was made public. Ancestry is indexing the records state by state to make them searchable for everyone for free. The 151 million newly released records will provide key details about more recent generations.

With the release of the 1950 U.S. Census records, respondents are most interested to learn their ancestors’ employment details, including salary, status and hours worked (38%) and occupations (35%), followed by names (34%) and ages (34%).

“It’s exciting that younger generations now have the opportunity to learn more about family members they know, like parents and grandparents,” Cowan says. “The 1950 Census provides a fascinating look at an era in our collective history, marking the first time baby boomers appear in a U.S. census. The real magic happens when you discover a more complete picture of not only what your family member’s life was like at a moment in time, but also how it had changed over the decades.”


    1. If the role of a godparent is to be a proxy for parents, what is the purpose of having so many? How would one be a step, if no true family relation exists?

  1. A sad symptom of the decline of the family. People are really just self-centered. Families are fractured and don’t live near each other. It’s not only sad, it weakens society. With all the genealogy tools online now, there’s no reason not to know- it’s just that so many don’t care. This disconnection is breeding dysfunction. God meant for family to inculcate morality and account.

    1. Why would I want to know the names of my great grandparents on my mother’s side? My maternal grandparents were the only grandparents I knew, and they were not kind people at all. They came from the South, and some of their extended family owned slaves. My grandfather was bitter, an alcoholic, and a total bigot who expressed his bigotry in my parents’ house. Why would I want to spend enough time with him in order to know who his parents are? Why would I want to learn morals that my grandfather may have learned from his parents? By the way, I DO know the names of my great grandparents on my father’s side. There are many stories such as mine, I am sure.

      1. A 21st Century eye towards people who lived in the early 20th century.
        Be assured that there will be people who will look back at you and say the same thing. I have never understood the reasoning that we are far superior in our morality in 2022 than someone was in that era. There are good and bad people in every era.

        1. There is absolutely no excuse for being hateful and oppressive. When I hear people say this I ask them, “oh, so Osama bin Laden’s animosity towards the US is excusable because he was simply a man of his times?” There are types of people: ordinary and extraordinary. One merely needs to possess the intellectual and moral capacity of an amoeba to become the latter. It’s every individual’s responsibility to rise above societal norms. The worst insult future generations can direct towards myself and my family is, “they were people of their times,” which is a euphemism for “they were just as ignorant as everyone else.”

        2. In the early 20th century there were far more good people than there are now! Unlike today people were taught morals back then. Before the 21st century was a far better time!

      2. First, allow me to commend your character and sense of morality. I understand your perspective. One of my great-great-grandfathers was racist and evil. He even married my great-great mother who was half Native American and African-American. The cruel irony (for him) was that her African-American genetics were dominant in their daughter’s features. My grandparents recounted anecdotes of him calling his own daughter racist epithets from childhood until his death. He suffered from spinal bifida which in his elderly life rendered him paralyzed and absolutely reliant on her care. Yet, she took him into her home and cared for him, even as he still called her, her husband, and their children racist names. If nothing else, you have a first-hand example of the type of person NOT to be and instill that into your children and descendants.

      3. Family is family! There’s nothing more important than family, no matter who they are! And the question was for grandparents not great-grandparents. it’s always good to know your great-grandparents and your great great grandparents!

    1. Exactamundo. Be interesting to know who the pollster was asking this question to. I knew all 4 of my grandparents full names when I was about 5 years old

    2. I think equally as interesting would whether those grandparents would be much impressed with the grandchildren. On considering their course speech and music, their toughness and ability to overcome. Probably slightly embarrassed.

  2. I would suspect this is mainly do to broken families and single parent families. This makes it sounds like American’s are willfully ignorant, but there are swaths of demographics in the country that don’t even know who their father is, let alone the parents of their father! And if they did know their father, does their father even know his father?

  3. How can there be a “legacy of slavery” or reparatrions if people don’t know their grandparents, let alone great- and great great grandparents. Who knows who is truly descended from slaves and who from black immigrants?

    1. If you’re black I’m the US you’re most likely descended from slaves. Very few black people immigrated here.

  4. “Most Americans can’t name all 4 of their grandparents” also “As a whole, just 47 percent of respondents could correctly name all four grandparents.”

    100% of the authors and editors of this article don’t know the definition of most.

    1. Coolie,

      47% could correctly name all their grandparents. That means 53% could not. However you want to say it “average American”, “most Americans”, “majority of Americans”, it would be accurate to state, as the authors and editors did.

    2. I know all four of my grandparents all eight of my great-grandparents and most of my great-great-grandparents!

  5. Boston, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas are all main cities….people in cities are more liable to have nannies and babysitters. They probably moved to a big city for a job. I never had a nanny or babysitter, I had my grandparents. I grew up interested in my genealogy because most of the women in my family were teachers. Plus I live in the same state that my ancestors came over and settled, starting back in Jamestown. Some people look to the future and don’t think it’s important. I was fortunate to have an amazing family. Some people try to get away because of abuse, assault, neglect, arguments, etc.

  6. There was a time in the last 20 years when much of that data was available free or cheap on the internet. However, much of that has now been monetized. Have you checked the prices of and lately? I suppose the good news is that so much of written historical documents are being digitized and indexed. The other challenge is for immigrant ancestors with common names (e.g. my Irish Bryson and McDonnell great grandparents). Their people cannot be found without key specifics (exact DOB, parish/towns, etc.). Good luck everyone.

  7. I feel fortunate that I can name my parents, grand parents, great grandparents and great great grandparents. However, I have tried for 46 years, to no avail, to locate the names of my 3rd great grandparents. That’s depressing for an old lady who grew up so very interested in her ancestors. There is just not enough of the genealogy tools on line to help me or at least I haven’t found that tool yet.

    1. In the end it’s irrelevant. Most lives are unremarkable and don’t make it to the history books. Nothing stops the march of history. We are this century’s dinosaurs awaiting to be discovered by bone-diggers of the future

      1. Knowing family and family history is always revelant! Doesn’t matter if you’re somebody famous or not! Your family history is important!

  8. This study seems flawed. If the vast bulk of respondents are from the top 10 major cities, then the headline should be “Survey Reveals Most People in Urban Areas Do Not Know who their Grandparents Are.” This is hardly a representative national sample.

  9. Yea, so, 0.00064127% of the population, or 1 in 155,497 people does not a remotely accurate study make. Sensational clap trap.

  10. Too many fatherless families. I work in a social department and see birth certificates daily. The vast majority of them do not have the fathers name. Many times the same mother has 4+ children, all with an ‘unknown’ father. It’s the inner city life style.

      1. Here’s a clue my friend, many of families in the moral belt of America and many families in foreign countries with allegedly more “family-values” orientation than America aren’t much at recounting family members. A couple years back our town media covered a local missing person’s case. Arm-chair detectives on the Internet keep pondering why it took over three years for any family member to report the children as missing. As the investigation unfolded it is uncovered that the missing person was a minor in a multi-generational family with 8 kids and over 12 individuals living under the same roof. 12 folks under one roof isn’t a family anymore, it’s a bureaucracy. It’s no wonder this “family” took over three years to realize that one of their own children was missing.

  11. Thank you for the info! I am a genealogy geek. And yes, I totally agree with your findings. Not only do people not know but seem to have little if any interest in finding out!

  12. That’s a sad thing, but as many commenters here wrote, many kids don’t even know both their parents. I was born in Poland and I can trace mom’s family back to the 1750’s. Dad’s family not such much, that history starts somewhere in 1880 but since all the churches over there kept the baptismal records, my study could be followed further. Just there are no heirs with my father’s name left. I don’t know who would care.

  13. I can name all four. Grandma and Grandpa S*****, and grandma and grandpa P*******.
    Can name my greats too….

  14. It’s because many don’t have fathers ie. don’t know who their fathers are. It’s the reason why there is so much crime too.

    1. Maybe focus on the fathers that don’t stick around and contribute rather than blame the mothers who hold it all together.

    2. I believe this is just an excuse and a there a belief that this is a new phenomenon. I assure you it is not. My mother was born out of wedlock in 1935 and given up to her mother’s neighbors at the age of two. Despite this abandonment, as a ward of the State, she completed high school, obtained her teaching degree, married and raised five children.
      I have since identified both her parents names and reconnected her with her mother. If there were more optimists and pragmatics and fewer pessimists in society, perhaps that would reduce the crime you blame on paternal abandonment.

  15. Ha! Easy. Grandmothers, Marta and Letizia. Grandfathers, Luigi and Luigi. I even know my great grandfather’s name. Uh…Luigi.

  16. I have been doing genealogy for over 30 years. I can trace mother and fathers grt 3rd 4th 5th and way back to some in 1400s but to ask me at a moment their names some I can some I forget

  17. I can name each of my grandparents as well as their grandparents.

    This is quite an achievement as my paternal and maternal grandfathers were born abroad.

    Did I mention that I’m a genealogist?

  18. Ancestry doing it for free? sure. you have to have an account…

    let the profiling and correlating begin (er, continue)

  19. As a southerner, I find this hard to believe. From birth I know the names of my Revolutionary ancestors as well as those of my grand parents

  20. This isn’t shocking. I’m among the rare Americans who travel abroad, and extensively. An empirical observation, Americans place less demonstrative value on family than many other societies. Examples, the dearth of paid (or even unpaid) workplace maternity/paternity leave, the gross inequality in work-life balance, and the refusal to pay livable wages, forcing a disproportion of American workers to have multiple jobs. All of these factors contribute towards an absence in their children’s developmental stages and perpetuate delinquency. The US has among the lowest population of middle-class and the highest number of poor employees in the West. Unsurprisingly, it also has the highest crime rates, particularly gun violence, and youth criminality. Employing “family values” as a political mantra and actively creating a system fostering it are dissimilar.

  21. I’ve traveled the globe and interacted with numerous cultures in which it’s the norm that people can recite their family lineages stretching back for centuries. Then again, those societies possess a strong sense of family values. It’s from them that motivated me to learn my own family heritage and teach my children.

    1. That is such a good thing! I know my grandparents, great-grandparents and most of my great great grandparents and some further on back! And I’m working on finding more! Family is so important! When I’m outside, when I’m riding a bus, or at functions it’s so clear to see people ignore their own family too much!

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