Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Family webs: The impact of women's genealogy research on family communication

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Lara Lengel (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Smeeta Mishra (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Peggy Giordano (Committee Member)


Family genealogy research has grown exponentially over the past decade, making it an area worthy of scholarly inquest. This study explores the connection between women and genealogy by examining the ways inherited familial narratives/data work to position women within American culture. Although studies of women's lives are on the rise, the standpoint (s) of women has historically been marginalized, particularly as women continue to be relegated to domestic and family care. Through researching women's standpoints we are better able to see the political constructions of sexist oppression, as well as the ways genealogy offers a possible site for resistance. Interviewing women who are engaged in the act of researching their own family genealogy provides insight into their motivation for doing so.

In documenting the family communication that surrounds the genealogical data, as well as studying the family organizational structure, this study will contribute to the existing research regarding family history and family narrative. As many of these women are members of local genealogical societies, they are also able to address aspects of community membership, and the positioning of women within these organizations. To better understand the link between genealogy and family communication as it pertains to women, 22 participants (women conducting genealogy research) were interviewed. Study participants were interviewed regarding their genealogical data collection, using open-ended questions guided by critical ethnographic methodology, which allowed the participants to elaborate on their answers, using their own words and/or voice. Responses were coded, utilizing methods provided by grounded theory. Coding revealed two themes, women's positioning within families and genealogical communities, and familial connections. From these themes seven categories were fleshed out; motivation to conduct genealogical research, K/knowing one's ancestors, the effect on family bonds, tracing race/class/fame via genealogy, the socio-historical positioning of women, the role of women in family systems, and the role of women within genealogical communities. As women and genealogy are both under-researched, this study works to illuminate the experiences of women genealogists, to understand the impact of genealogical data upon family communication, and to explore family genealogy as a site of feminist resistance to the socio-political marginalization of women.