The hype expounded on many genealogy/ancestry websites would suggest that the family history research hobby is one of the most popular worldwide, and is growing steadly stronger. However, despite the huge growth in the amount of data available on the internet, and television programs such as "Who do you think you are?", the hobby has been in gradual decline for quite a few years.
What evidence supports this claim? Membership of genealogy societies is falling. Circulation of family tree magazines is falling. More surprisingly, the number of internet search engine queries is falling. According to the Google Trends graph below, there has been a progressive decline of about 60% since 2004!
Of course, on the other hand, the growth of data available at the FamilySearch website and some of the commercial organizations has been phenomenal. Family history data is now big business. Perhaps the drop in search engine traffic is made up for by direct searches of these sites. Similarly, the growth in subscriptions to the commercial websites probably more than makes up for the fall in membership of genealogy societies and circulation of family tree magazines.
Locally, in South Australia, things are much the same as elsewhere. Society membership is generally dropping. However, Genealogy SA has recently released BDM indexes on its website and has reported a marked increase in its traffic as a result. This is good for South Australian family history researchers. Unfortunately, the major commercial websites haven't included much South Australian material, but we can, of course, make good use of their extensive British and worldwide data.
Here, at FamilyHistorySA, we've been able to buck the trend, with traffic increasing year-by-year until now. But, as this year (2012) progresses, we are experiencing a decline for the first time, commencing with the introduction of the SA BDM indexes. We're doing our best to reverse the trend by adding new databases and more detail to existing ones, but only time will tell...
PS. Quite by accident we've discovered another major cause of our reducing numbers. On 18 September 2012 the National Library's excellent digitised newspaper database was offline for several hours. During this time our web traffic increased dramatically. Soon after the newspapers came back online, our numbers fell back to the current normal.