Thursday, September 22, 2011

Genea-Investors: Is Wall Street Telling Us Anything About "Big Picture" Genealogy?

Wall Street - No Bull
Here’s an interesting point to ponder.  

Today, the stock market – both the New York Stock Exchange (known as “the Big Board” ) and the NASDAQ - took another beating, extending their recent “down days” to four in a row.

Things are tough out there.

One of the companies that suffered was the one run by our good friends in Provo, UT:  Point of disclosure – I own some shares, and this blog post is neither an encouragement for you to buy nor an admonishment for you to sell.  In fact, it’s not about investing at all, despite what it sounds like.

Bear with me for a while.

Ancestry (whose ticker symbol is ACOM) got zonked today, losing $3.18 a share, thus plummeting nearly 12% to $23.49 a share. As a point of reference, ACOM was worth as much as $45.00 a share earlier this year.  So, if you bought shares at the high, your investment was down by nearly half.

As I said, things are tough out there.

Now, today was a down day on the market overall – not just for Ancestry, what with all the bad financial news coming out of Europe. The Dow was down nearly 400 points, a little over 3.5%.  The “fear index” was up. But still, Ancestry was down more than most. Nearly 12% is a lot.

Is genealogy over? Are people done subscribing?

Not likely, but it’s very interesting indeed to poke around the web – specifically in the financial/investing message boards – to see what investors are saying about genealogy in general and in particular.

Most Wall Street investors are not genealogists.  In fact, most investors think we’re (i.e., the genealogy folk) a little bit weird.  Scratch that – they think we’re a whole lot weird.  That’s because they don’t do genealogy, mostly because they have no personal interest in history or in dead people.

Bluntly, they’re in the market to make money. And most of ‘em are kids (which, to some of us, is anyone under 50…)

So, you’ll find the message boards for Ancestry investors and investor-wannabes riddled with messages about why a company like Ancestry can never succeed long-term. For example, one poster recently observed that genealogy was really easy and that he finished his in about four months.  He observed that he might check back every 10 years or so to update things, but since he was “done”, there was no reason to subscribe any more.

Another poster admitted to being kinda, sorta addicted to genealogy AND a senior citizen, but since he had done all the census stuff on Ancestry, there was nothing left to do. So he did not renew his subscription.

A less than enthusiastic Ancestry watcher rhetorically inquired of other posters, “Are You Nuts?” and then proceeded to question why anyone would spend time or money to trace their family history on or any other subscription website.  Or trace their family history at all.

Several other posters commented that they thought his gene pool might be very shallow, with no deep end at all.
As I said, things are tough out there.

What does all this mean?  In the investor’s “big picture”, not much; in the hobbyist/ genealogical professionals’ world, however, it means we’re not doing enough outreach to those people that are usually called “the Public At Large”.

People who aren’t “one of us” still think we’re all those proverbial “blue-haired old ladies in tennis shoes” trying to find stuff so that we can all join hereditary societies, feast on tea and crumpets or trace our lines to the rich and famous. 

Sure, there’s some of that, but that’s not what motivates most of us. In fact, a good part of the rest of humanity has no clue about the passion that drives us to do what we do.

Bottom-lining it, we need to tell our story better.  We need to show our non-practicing, non-believing friends that there’s merit in what we do. 

That good genealogy means better health history.  That thorough genealogy means that much more is known about “big” (national) history and about “small” (local) history.  That competent genealogists can be professionals, and professionals can be competent genealogists.  That the forgotten facts we uncover, dust off and reassemble are facts about the people who built our nation, our infrastructure and our society, not about ourselves.

That real genealogy is not about “ME”, but rather about “US” – all of us.

If ACOM stock slides a little bit – no big deal in the long run.  The market – like the weather – is highly variable. 

However, if we turn our backs on public outreach and education – really big negative deal, and we’ll all suffer in the long run. Library and archives funding will become more difficult to find and the sound of doors closing on public records will get louder.

Shouldn't we all be working to tell our story better - and not just to our social-networking selves?


  1. Just superb. This is going into my "What Genealogy Is About" file.

  2. Mel, I like the point you are making and I agree that we can tell the story better. But at the same time, all things considered, I am perfectly willing to be the keeper of the flame. Because that is what we are all doing, generation to generation, protecting our heritage, even in the face of those that can't appreciate it.

  3. Wow! You totally hit the nail on the head, Mel. I agree that we aren't doing enough outreach to the general public about genealogy. No, not everyone is cut out to be a genealogist or a family historian, but these topics involve everyone. So awareness is extremely important. Awareness can prevent that old, dusty, falling-apart cardboard box full of family memories and mysteries from being thrown out with the trash.

    ~Caroline Pointer

  4. I feel there's a lot of money in the genealogy business. With more and more sources being available on-line, it's not restricted anymore to professionals and people with time on their hands (read: retired) to visit archives and historical societies around the country. That's precisely why this is the right time to invest in companies like, now that it's suddenly possible to do some serious genealogical research from the comfort of your own home. I believe in the power and sustainability of genealogy as a hobby. It IS probably a bad time to become a professional genealogist, though. Maybe the profession needs to change a bit from just providing a service to a more educating role (which in turn will benefit companies like But this is just MY two cents.


  5. Wonderful questions and comments. I added my own to the discussion on my blog, and I appreciate you bringing up a very pertinent topic.

  6. Great article and very much on point.