Definition: Genealogy – a study of family ancestors with pertinent data such as birth, marriage and death dates. Family History – an in-depth study of a family lineage with greater emphasize and clarification of each ancestor’s life story.
Any beginner to genealogy will start with just learning the individuals in the family. Their parents’ full names, place of birth, marriage date and location. Then needed are each parent’s parents’ names and again birth-marriage and death dates and locations. In genealogy, a pedigree listing or chart is always desired. The further back in lineage the greater the list of just direct ancestors (parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.).
An example of the number of direct ancestors you might have: Going back to one’s grandparents who are 4 individuals, next going back to ones’ great grandparents there are 8 individuals and then 2nd great grandparents (great great grandparents) there are 16 individuals. Today, taking ones’ ancestors back to the 2nd great grandparents would place their birth lineage to the 1820 to1830 timeframe. Go back another hundred years from that to the 1730s and you have your 5th great grandparents and they alone number 128 people. Therefore, there are still many individuals to track and locate information about to create a lengthy family tree. Such a chart becomes one’s jumping off point to explore and create a full family history.
Family history can take the form of medical family history, economic achievements, social standings, a place in historical events or family achievements / accomplishments. Some families’ histories were originally done for inheritance purposes or for seeking glory in an ancestor’s triumphs. While others might have been ashamed of earlier ancestors and they tried to hide their history from future generations. Some classical examples: The DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, those who are proudly proclaimed descendants of American Revolutionary patriots. However, if one had been of Native American Indian ancestry that information might have been concealed for decades.
A good family history tells a story about an individual or a certain family. Much can be learned by using diaries, journals, family Bibles, newspaper articles, early family history books, letters or scrapbooks that were created by a certain ancestor and handed down over the generations. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have such a family treasure saved over the years. Countless paper items were discarded over the decades as individuals died, moved or sort through attics. Learning more about the each family ancestor: their likes, dislikes, interests, skills and achievements is fascinating.
Examining their daily lives, the types of hardships they may have had to endure can truly make a person in the early 21st century appreciate all the modern technology available. Placing ancestors within geographical and historical timeframes also provides a better understanding of their lives. If one was living in the rural countryside of Carroll County, Maryland in the 1880s, their life focused on four seasons while working the farm land would have been quite different than an ancestor of El Paso, Texas. Just like those living in the Deep South immediately after the defeat and destruction of the South during the War Between the States in the 1860s, their lives would not resemble life in Portland, Oregon in 1868.
Learning one’s family medical history has become of great interest to many individuals with what has been accomplished in generic testing in recent years. Of course what was medically known 50 and 100 years ago is vastly different from today. Add to that the near elimination of many infectious diseases such as; yellow fever, thyroid, small pox and malaria, which were regular epidemics every few years across the country and world, then you can see how life was truly a struggle for most of our ancestors.
With numerous digital newspaper archives coming online, like Newspaper Archive, it allows a researcher to possibly learn more about an ancestor even if such newspaper clippings were not saved by the family. An example is a Philadelphia Inquirer article of October 21, 1862 about the wife of a Frederick, Maryland Union officer, Lt. Groff, collecting and hiding ninety rifles of Frederick citizens in a deep well along Main Street so those guns would not be seized by the approaching Rebel Confederate forces coming through the town. A small note in history but it can speak volumes about the patriotism, determination and bravery of that lone woman, a 2nd great grandmother to many descendants of today.
Yes, there is a difference between genealogy and family history, but both are dependent to varying degrees on each other. Genealogy can be compared to the trunk of a tree, but a rich family history truly gives the tree its color, leaves, flowers and majestic appearance.
Photos: Family Tree, Family History and Rebel soldiers in Frederick, MD in 1862.
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