Americans' Search for Their Roots

December 14, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


The search for family ancestors is no longer the special province of antiquarians, status seekers and blue bloods. Most of those now engaged in genealogical research are fully aware that it will more likely lead to Ellis Island records than the Mayflower passenger list. Immigration records and other pertinent information are now more accessible, thanks to computerized data retrieval systems. But genealogical research is still a labor-intensive pursuit, engaging possibly a million Americans either full time or part time, as a hobby, obsession or profession.

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It was 1976—the American bicentennial—when Alex Haley published his acclaimed book Roots, tracing his family's history back through many generations in the United States and West Africa. The two events whetted the public's curiosity about the nation's history—and their own, inspiring a large number of people to delve into family history for the first time.

The January 1977 broadcast of a 12-hour TV miniseries based on Haley's book intensified the nation's interest in genealogical research, and that interest has grown over the past 14 years. Genealogical research centers report yearly increases in the public's demand for their services. Membership in such organizations as the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the American Genealogical Society is up.

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