The Differences Between a Genealogist and a Family Historian

What’s the difference between a genealogist and a family historian? People sometimes use those two concepts as though they were interchangeable, and this adds to the confusion. There are differences between a genealogist and a family historian.

Genealogist is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families.”

Merriam-Webster does not have a definition for family historian. But, it does have a definition for historian: “a writer or compiler of a chronicle.” From this, we can extrapolate that a family historian is a person who writes and compiles stories about their ancestor’s lives.

Here are some things Genealogists do:

* Build a family tree based on information found in vital records
* Search for the original paper record whenever possible
* Use online records found on popular genealogy websites
* Seek out records located in churches and courthouses
* Follow the guidelines set forth in the Genealogical Proof Standard
* Join genealogy societies
* Help new genealogists with their research – individually, as part of service provided by a genealogical society, or when hired as a professional genealogist
* Have a healthy amount of skepticism in the information found in family trees that they have not personally researched

Here are some things Family Historians do:

* Write down birth dates and death dates inside a family bible
* Look for high school yearbooks that may contain photos of their relatives and ancestors
* Record (in text or audio) the family stories that have been handed down from one generation to the next
* Use the family history section of their local genealogy library
* Seek out old letters, diaries, and journals of ancestors
* Organize family reunions
* Transfer VHS tapes of family vacations into digital videos
* Label old family photos

For many people, there is some overlap between the tasks that are typically done by a genealogist and the tasks done by a family historian. A person might start by using vital records to fill in their family tree, and then later, start looking for personal stories about those ancestors.

Related Articles at

* What is genealogy?

* Family History Stories Can Be Scintilating

* How to Start Building a Family Tree

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