Factor 1 (17.39% of the rotated variance) comprised seven items relating to being motivated by the desire to find out more about oneself and one’s ancestral/cultural influences. It was labelled Self-Understanding Motive. Factor 2 (14.94% of the variance) consisted of four items relating to altruistic motives for engaging in family history, for example the desire to contribute to future generations. It was labelled Altruism Motive. Factor 3 (five items, 13.90% of the variance) concerned the intellectual challenges of family history research, for example keeping the mind active. This factor was labelled Cognitive Challenge.
Scales were formed by adding the ratings of items that made up the factors. The Self-Understanding Motive scale comprised items 7, 9, 11, 14, 15, and 16. The Altruism Motive scale comprised items 3, 4, 5, and 6, and the Cognitive Challenge scale comprised items 1, 3, 17, 18, and 19. The Total Motivation scale was the sum of all items except 2, 8, and 12, which were removed from the final version because of their cross loadings.
Intercorrelations between subscales were as follows: Self-Understanding and Altruism, 0.42; Self-Understanding and Cognitive Challenge, 0.28; Altruism and Cognitive Challenge, 0.25. These moderate intercorrelations indicate that while the subscales were somewhat related, they are also relatively independent.
shows correlations between the motive scales and several demographic and personality variables.
With respect to the total scale, those who expressed stronger motives to research family history were significantly younger (within an older population), more likely to be female, and to rate their family history hobby as relatively more important than other leisure activities. Interestingly, however, time spent on family history did not correlate with total motivational strength, only to the Cognitive Challenge subscale. In terms of personality and developmental stage, greater motive strength was associated with higher levels of conscientiousness, openness, and generativity.
With respect to the subscales, those who scored higher on any of the three motivational factors were also more likely to rate their family history hobby as relatively more important than their other leisure pursuits. On other variables, however, the profiles differed.
Those with stronger motives to search for self-understanding were also younger and less educated than the sample as a whole. They were more likely to be female, have half-siblings, be adopted or donor-conceived, have taken a genealogical DNA test, and be somewhat less emotionally stable than the rest of the sample.
Those characterised by stronger altruistic motives for their family history research did not differ from the rest of the sample on age, gender, or education but they were likely to have more children and grandchildren than those with weaker altruistic motives. High altruism was associated with a stronger sense of generativity plus greater conscientious and openness to experience.
Finally, those more strongly motivated by the cognitive challenges of family history research were younger, better educated, and spent more time on their genealogical hobby than those with lower levels of this motive. These ‘genealogical detectives’ were characterised by high generativity and conscientiousness.
Twenty-one per cent of the sample rated ‘other’ motives as very or somewhat important as drivers of their family history research, resulting in 163 (mostly very brief) descriptions of such motives. The initial stimulus for taking an interest in family history was frequently mentioned. People said they were challenged to engage in family history research after events such as “when my father died”, “because my daughter had a school project”, or “after I inherited a box full of old family photos”. We chose not to categorise these stimuli as psychosocial motives; although they may account for getting started, they do not explain persistence with the hobby.
Most of the remaining responses were a restatement of one of the three motives already described, or a combination of these, sometimes with specific family examples or stories attached. For example, different aspects of self-understanding were mentioned, including personal, cultural, and biological identity (respectively), as shown in the quotes below (responding to the stem, I participate in family history research):
To really try to understand my place in the world
I am Aboriginal so it is important to discover and uncover those who were taken from us, understand our huge mob and extensive family connections.
I am an adoptee and wanted to find out who my father and mother were and also to find out about my biological parents’ background and where they came from.
Altruistic motives were also commonly mentioned, for example:
It gives me a buzz when I find a relative, or when helping others with their research—i.e., brick walls. I love it when I can break down a brick wall for someone, it gives them great pleasure and me also.
I am simply interested in where we came from and would like to pass that information on to future generations in our family.
I want, in at least some small way, to honour those who went before me by telling their stories.
Thirdly, the cognitive challenge motive was reiterated frequently, for example:
I enjoy the challenge.
I love the intellectual challenge of family research, the insights I gain into ancestors’ lives in their country of origin and in Australia, and the historical context in which they lived.
I love a mystery and want to solve as many family mysteries as I can. I am very curious and want to satisfy that in me.
A combination of the three motives occurred in some responses:
I am an only child and feel that family trees encourage me to understand my family’s lives. I also love the chase, the problem-solving part gives me a pat on the back that once I retired, wasn’t there anymore. But my strongest reason is that I love my family, I knew two great grandmothers, and it shows me a young person was there inside all the time. I’m seeing and understanding this now.
Were any new reasons for participating in family history research revealed? A few respondents gave examples of motives that we had not included in our measure. We isolated four different reasons, each of which was mentioned by more than one person (but fewer than 10). The reasons were:
(a) Spiritual or life-meaning motives. These responses mentioned a specific religion, or some spiritual or transcendental reason for engaging in family history research. For example:
My paternal grandmother read tea leaves and tarot cards and my maternal grandmother could intuit future events. Both my parents were Spiritualists able to “see” and “hear” messages from beyond the veil. My oldest daughter is now a professional psychic. Those of us in our family who follow this tradition believe we have an ongoing connection to those ancestors who have passed on and it stimulates our interest in their lives.
I’m getting older, and family history is part of my wondering about why are we all here/what’s life all about?
I went to a clairvoyant and she talked about my family members that had passed over. I wanted to know something about them and 22 years later still finding out information.
I am a Latter-Day Saint and it is important to us to know our ancestry.
(b) Comfort motives. Comfort was viewed as a motive for family history participation by several people. These feelings seemed to go beyond the relaxation that is generally provided by hobbies and included relief from strong negative emotions, such as those associated with serious illness and grief. For example:
It is a major stress relieving hobby—you have to concentrate to do it well so you forget other life pressures.
I am terminally ill although I wasn’t when I started. I find it gives me comfort.
I have lived with chronic illness for 33 years. It has been a life saver when times are tough. I can focus on research and forget about problems.
My father passed away suddenly then three close relatives also died within six weeks. I didn’t want to answer the phone anymore. But this is when I started looking for deceased people [in the family tree]. It helped me come to terms with the loss of my father.
(c) Making social connections. Another motive for persisting with family history research was the enjoyment of the social connections made. We had included two items relating to social connections in the initial measure, but they did not form a clear factor. Inclusion of more items tapping this concept may be advisable, given that there were several different aspects of social connection mentioned, including getting to know other amateur family historians, becoming more engaged with the professional genealogical community, and meeting previously unknown relatives. Examples include being motivated to engage in family history because:
I enjoy being part of the genealogical community.
For social purposes: giving an infrastructure or reason for meeting and interacting with distant relations.
I attend local, state, national and international conferences now and meet a wide range of likeminded people. It gives me more opportunity to make connections that weren’t around when I started.
(d) Travel enhancement. Finally, several people commented on how their family history research enhanced their travel experiences and perceived this as a motive for continuing their research. For example:
It makes travel more interesting by merging historical context into places you travel and if you specifically travel for family history it brings alive the context of past times (and can make our modern life pressures seem trivial in comparison to the barriers faced by ancestors).
[It’s] a reason to travel. For geographical and nature study reasons: exploring beautifully placed old cemeteries with their own wild gardens in far flung places. For a sense of belonging in a place: to be driving through a town or even a street and noting that that’s where a certain relative lived or be driving past a cemetery where another relative is buried.
I have travelled all over Britain to where my ancestors come from and walked the streets they walked, stayed on the islands they lived on, walked the graveyards, visited the churches, and enriched my travels in the process. And now I’m “hooked”!