What is Genealogy?

Genealogy has had a surge of popularity over the last 30 years. However, it has continuously been of interest and importance to people for hundreds of years. Those of noble birth in the European courts especially needed to know their lineage to determine who was actually in line for the crown.

The term ‘genealogy’ is the study of family ancestors with documentation of birth, marriage and death dates through parents, grandparents, great grandparents, as far back as possible. Whereas, ‘family history’ is more an in-depth study of the lineage in a family including the life stories of individuals; like their education, occupations, medical conditions, military service, residences, etc.

For many people who are just beginning in genealogy, they may only be familiar with their parents’ names, date of birth and possibly a marriage date. There is so much more that can be added just to that parental generation. Dates and location of events go hand-in-hand. Add with that the parents’ full legal names. An individual referred to as ‘Bill’ or “W. F.“ their whole life, when in reality their full legal name was William Franklin Smith, is crucial information.

A pedigree chart or listing of each person with the basic information is essential. The key is beginning with oneself. Write out your name, birth date, birth location, marriage date and location. Draw two lines out or in two boxes, and place your parents’ names. Add their birth, marriage and death dates along with locations. Now this is the initiation of a family tree.

From each of your parents, is another line or box for their mother and father; they would be your grandparents. This is forming a direct lineage of your ancestors (parents > grandparents > great grandparents, etc.).


Such a direct lineage can multiple in the number of names very quickly. Look at the math; parents (2), then grandparents (4), great grandparents (8) and to the 2nd great grandparents (16), there is now a total of 30 unique and different people, all who contributed to the future generations, including yourself.

Today, there are numerous reasons to research one’s genealogy and expand it as a full family history. First, is for a medical family history. With the knowledge of genetics, medical science needs to know an individual’s family history; what one’s parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles suffered or died from assists the doctors to better know how to prevent and treat you, the descendant, as an individual today.

Secondarily, discovering the geographical and historical time periods of ancestors provides a better perception of what shaped their lives. If one was living in the rural English countryside of the Lake District in the1880s, their farm life focused on the four seasons. It would be a different lifestyle for those living in west central England and working in Manchester’s industrial factories.

There are diversities between genealogy and family history, yet both are dependent on each other. The main lineage of a family is the heart of genealogy. You need a listing of the ancestors; names, places and dates. This creates the facts from which to build. Then, learning about each ancestor as a person; their strengths or their weaknesses, their abilities and their achievements, in a sense, puts a real face to that ancestor’s name. You might not have an image, but you can get an impression of who they were by learning more about each person.

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