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What Kind of Genealogist Are You?

My husband and I are very different genealogists. I love research. I love the challenge of the hunt, the mystery waiting to be solved. I'll research anyone's ancestry just to have the thrill of following the clues. I just love solving the puzzle. Of course I also love finding my own ancestors!

My husband however dislikes research. He finds it tedious and a lot of work.  He loves finding an ancestor, or better yet, having someone else find that ancestor for him. He's passionate about his ancestry, but avoids the actual research whenever possible. Family lore is enough for him and he feels no need to find sources to verify that lore. If it's important enough to him, he'll force himself to push through the research but he'd rather I did it for him. He always says that if he were rich, he'd hire someone to do all the research for him.

I'd hate that, and in fact I often feel bad that I'm doing so much that I'm not leaving my grandchildren the fun of the hunt!

It seems to me that there are several types of genealogists -


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The Hunter or Detective: This genealogist loves the research. While they want to find their own ancestors, they'll research anyone's ancestry just for the thrill of the hunt. They are easily sidetracked from their own ancestral research by the challenge of solving a stranger's brick wall.

The Gatherer or Ancestor Collector: This genealogist loves to know about their ancestors but doesn't really enjoy the hunt. He/she is happy to have others share what they have found.

The Ancestor Finder: This genealogist loves it all - doing the actual research and finding that elusive ancestor but they only enjoy researching their own family tree, not the ancestry of strangers.

The Hoarder: This genealogist does lots of research, finds new things about their ancestors but refuses to share any of the information.

The Junkyard Collector: This genealogist gets excited over online Family Trees and merges them with his/her own. He/she never verifies anything or checks their facts. Before long they have a mess of unsourced information, conflicting data and facts that don't make sense. They'll have female ancestors having children at the age of 100, or men born 50 years after their spouse or children born before their parents.

The Scholar: This genealogist lives and breathes source citations.  Accuracy is everything to this research. You'll often find this person submitting articles to scholarly journals as the New York Genealogial and Biographical Record. Page after page of red edit marks from the editors don't intimidate them. They'll plow through their article drafts, refining and revising and making each more accurate than the last.

Office-991306_1920 copyThe Analyzer: This genealogist finds a new fact, then studies it and analyzes it carefully before moving on to the next bit of research. They use each fact as a stepping stone to more research. They verify every piece of information they find and they view it critically, thinking about what it actually means and what other clues might be gleaned from it.

The Planner: This genealogist is a faithful keeper of research logs. He/she creates research plans and follows them. They are extremely organized in their research and meticulous about planning before they go on a research trip

The Writer: This is the genealogist who is driven to write the stories of the ancestors. Some publish the books they write and offer them for sale, others write only for their family.

I'm not judging any specific type as the best or the worst except the junkyard collectors who make me shudder and shake my head in bewilderment.

Some of us may fit more than one category. I am definitely a Hunter-Detective and a Writer but I'm also a little bit of a Scholar. I don't live and breathe source citations but I have submitted articles to scholarly journals and I've faced the red editing pen with determination. I'm also an Analyzer.  My husband on the other hand is a Gatherer. He doesn't seem to fit any other categories.

Where do you fit in?

Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.


Credit: Images are from Pixabay with License: CC0 Public Domain


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I'm definitely a hunter detective.

I am a hunter/detective, analyzer genealogist, with a healthy desire to be a writer, but I struggle to resist the further hunt to make time to write!

I'm a hunter/detective. You described it perfectly. I'll drop everything and research anyone's line. Love the thrill of a mystery.

Jan , isn't it fun? I can so easily become side-tracked by digging into an unrelated line that intrigues me!

Melissa - I found when I wrote this article that it got me thinking about the areas in which I am lacking! So I made a decision to try to incorporate a few of the other categories into my genealogy methodology. Glad to hear you are thinking about writing - and I hope one day (soon?) you sit down and "just do it" :-)

Diane, I think a lot of us fit that category! That's kind of what makes a genealogist isn't it.

I'm the Hunter/Detective. Like a blood hound following the scent, of anyone's family! And my husband is exactly like your husband, Lorine! He wants me to do the research, tell him what I find, then he can relay the stories to everyone!

Hi Becky

I guess our husbands are lucky to have us!

I am a Hunter/Detective. I intend on being a writer, but right now I'm a Storyteller. I recently met with cousins in another state and spoke for about 2 hours straight, explaining all of the information I have found - including an inheritance. I loved their questions. And yes I go off for hours on other people's trees. I found a cousin through DNA and am having a heck of a time figuring out how we are related...I have a name, just can't get back far enough to find the link. I spent about 3 days working on it before I quit to get something done in the house. I love researching ancestry and I'm happy to not be alone in my quest. Great article :)

I'm the hunter/detective/writer husband is the cemetery tramper...he loves that and he loves what I find. However, he finds my desire to do anyone's family a mystery but thinks it is fun to watch me get excited over other people's ancestors. I think you need to add two types to your list: the straight line genealogist (who couldn't care less about the 'family history'...just his/her own direct line) and the All Family or Lateral Line researcher who does their best to get all the families gathered together and research what they did, too (that is usually where all the fantastic family stories are, anyway).

I must be the Ancestor Finder/Writer.

I don't think you should feel guilty for doing so much your grandkids won't have anything to do. We're just part of a process. My Dad took over from his mother, who was like your husband. A trip to a courthouse -- she hated it. I took over from Dad, who saw the beginning of the Internet and joined a few surname Usenet groups and listservs.

When my nephews take over from so many more record sets will be digitized and online. Privacy restrictions that create brick walls for me will be pushed years forward, revealing so much more information. Think about having the 1950 census for example. If they really fall in love with genealogy, they can still hunt up offline records.

Most of the above - but I'm "new" and still learning :) - Think of myself as the "hey! squirrel!" genealogist. Perfect example, right now it's 3am and I've been working on my paternal line all night, after sitting down to work on my husband's maternal line. Logging off, and I saw your article posted somewhere. I'm looking at your (maiden?) name and thinking... Oooo.. my husband has some of those. I found a distant cousin of his that way last week.

Hi Christina - Lucky you for finding a cousin through a surname match! My McGinnis line came from Ireland to Ontario (Guelph area) 1840s. Sadly McGinnis is a very common surname in Ireland!

Schalene you made a very good point! More and more records become accessible all the time so my descendants will have lots to do! Besides I can't research every single ancestor in depth, so I am leaving them lots of unknowns.

Hi Bonny, Thanks for the ideas of other categories! I"ll keep them in mind if I do another revision, I love hearing other genealogists' thoughts on this.

Mary - ooooohh I love the idea of Storyteller. I didn't think of that as a category! That is so important as a way of preserving and passing on the family stories. Thanks for sharing

I'm definitely a hunter/detective - I'll happily delve into anyone's ancestry!

This is fun! I fit a few categories (just a toe in to a few of them, since I'm relatively new still). I wanted to tell you that I've included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week:

We have a group who use the LDS Family History Library in our town. There are about 3 or 4 of us who are there regularly each week, researching our own families, but if anyone gets stuck, we all get involved trying to solve one or the other's "problem". Sometimes we can do it the same night, and sometimes it might take a few weeks. It is fun working together that way, and always interesting to find how differently we each go about finding the information. I guess that makes all of us detectives, but it certainly is fun sharing the research.

I could write a book on the adventures & surprises I've had in researching family trees. I met cousins in lines we never knew existed, found a second cousin in England, found someone who is still alive and knew my gr-grandparents and several of their children! I found very distant relatives all over the world and connected people who wouldn't have found each other. I also met people with clues that would never be online.
This is like a puzzle to solve & that seems to be a common trait.
I also can't stand junkyard collectors and met a few. They can't grasp that people can't have children after they are dead a few years?!? Some also can't handle being wrong, even with a mountain of proof.
I've had people help me from far away that had no reason to do so and helped others because others helped me. Pay it forward seems to be the norm. Someone at a cemetery office mentioned some dates and ages, in passing, and lead me to my gr-gr-gr-grandmother. She was right in front of us for years but no one noticed her until someone mentioned the right numbers.
Other people have mentioned they are ridiculed for "speaking to the dead" or enjoying cemeteries but when someone dies, everyone flocks to them to tell them how everyone is connected. They don't care until it's too late the and information has died with someone.
The advice from many has been to mark all pictures while you know who they are. Too many have a shoebox of pictures with no idea who they are. Many end up in the garbage because they can't be identified. Facebook sometimes helps as we had someone recognize a house they grew up in so they knew where it was. I was lucky enough to find someone who could identify people in a picture from about 1865! They died a few years ago. Get the info while people are alive who know.

What would you call a genealogist who loves to do scholarly research on her own family and who tries to share but whose only remaining sibling isn't interested in hearing about what she has learned?

Frieda - I feel your frustration and disappointment. But that is often the case. The best advice I can give you is to write up your findings and publish them! Publish them in a book, online on a family tree, in a blog - whatever suits you. Publishing your research allows other descendants to learn what you have found.


Excellent advice Dave!

Linda, your group fits perfectly into the co-operative spirit of genealogy and genealogists! In fact I'm writing a blog post about that topic to be published sometime this week on my main blog

Thank you Jo!

I am an “Ancestor Finder” and “Analyzer”. I love to share the information I have with other relatives that I connect with while doing my research. I will often contact relatives I have never met just to share with them what I’ve found, and just to say “Hi”—not expecting anything back in return. It’s fun! I religiously track where I find my information (my sources) but I know that I can never verify 100% that my information is accurate, as I believe no one can. Records are kept by humans who are often lazy and sloppy, who don’t always tell the truth, who often just make mistakes, etc. Even those treasured “primary documents” are often wrong and/or missing information. In many cases, there are no records to verify the information that is passed down. But I do my best and love the stories of my ancestors and relatives past. I don’t just want names, dates, and places. I definitely want their stories.

Lorine, I think You and I may be very similar. I'm yet to submit my work to any Literary, or Genealogical Societies, but after 25 Years of Researching it's bound to happen!

I'm definitely the hunter/detective. I spend no less than 40 hrs. per week on my (and others) family history. I am also, I guess, a little bit of a hoarder. Don't get me wrong, I am all about sharing and will when someone ask. I am against posting my research, family pictures and sources on line to contribute to the Junkyard Collectors. Sharing involves 2 parties but junkyard collector never have anything to give back. Even worse, most fail to add the source of where they got all the information. That is stealing.

Hunter-Detective but also The Sharer. The Sharer is the exact opposite of the Hoarder. The Sharer LOVES to share everything he/she finds with anyone and everyone who wants it. The Sharer looks up info in courthouses and online documents which he/she transcribes. And offers the copies to everyone for free. Does not copyright ANYTHING. The Sharer also does not like to be told they CAN'T share info that they get from The Hoarders. But The Sharer will promise not to share info if the Hoarder directs them not to. Making The Sharer feel a bit guilty ;-)

Not sure what you would call this but the analogy I use is I am kind of like the cat that leaves dead rodents on your backs step as if to say, "Look what I found!" I do the same thing to my fellow researchers. I can't wait to show them what I found. So maybe The Mouser could be a category as well? ;-)

Hunter/scholar and part hoarder. I still remember the physical rush of getting close to a record on microfilm or microfiche, 20 years ago. I research for all my friends, and I'll share everything with someone who shows genuine interest, but I can't stand junkyarders. I don't know how many times I've mentioned to a distant relative, usually online, that the record or connection they're spreading around isn't correct -- and that I have the document trail to show it -- and the entry hasn't been corrected. Agh! I'm a medical researcher, so I believe it's not enough to find the record; you have to establish that it's the right one. (I'm speaking from a line of Kellys. Johns, Patricks, Marys, all emigrating at 17 and working as servants or laborers.... And all logged on the ship as from "Ireland". Sigh.)

I love to travel, but money is tight. Otherwise I would love to hunt. Wish I had a time machine so I could go back in time and meet my ancestor's. I have some road blocks that I can't get pasted.

I would be an Ancestor Finder, researching both mine and my step-family, with a touch of an Analyzer and Planner.

Hey Barry - I like your category of the Sharer. I think the Mouser is similar to the Hunter :-)

I'm with you on this one Patrick!

Tag, I agree. I share but only in small doses. I have been the victim of the Junkyard Collector in my early days online and I learned to be a bit wary. That is why I publish my findings for sale in book form - if someone wants to Junkyard Collect from my hard work they're going to have to pay to do so. But if someone is a serious researcher and willing to share with me, I"ll share willingly!

Brian - word of advice -don't wait too long to submit your work. It's never done so you will always be thinking "not yet, not ready yet"

Don't. Just do it :-)

Judy I think you are also a Story Teller!

Goodness! I think I am a hybrid! I've been interested in genealogy since I was a child and I am now older than dirt. I come from a family of "top-down" (ancestor-descendants) genealogists. I have many thousands of records for over 44,000 descendants of my surname ancestor. I'm working now on a social history of those family descendant folks along with a "book of lists" and a skeletal genealogy of names, dates and places. The social history is the most fun. So many amazing people. Plan to publish as a free book.

That's an interesting project Sarah. Wishing you much success with it!

I am a Researcher/Detective, Analyzer, Hoarder and Planner. I detest Junkyard Collectors to the 'nth degree. In my opinion they are the toxic waste of the genealogical world. I suspect many may have never visited a courthouse, library, historical society or even walked a cemetery but believe they are doing research. I have done research on many families of friends and business acquaintances for fun. It's better than any mystery ever written or movie ever made. It's the real could not make some of this stuff up! Genealogy is the best adventure and high you can find! Before you know it the night has passed and the sun is rising. It was only moments ago, not hours, you began following the trail of an elusive ancestor that, after decades of searching, revealed a glimpse of themselves to you. The game's afoot! Happy hunting fellow researchers!!

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