Genealogy "Family History"

Genealogy (from Greek: γενεα, genea, "family"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge") is the study and tracing of family pedigrees. This involves the collection of the names of relatives, both living and deceased, and establishing the relationships among them based on primary, secondary and/or circumstantial evidence or documentation, thus building up a cohesive family tree. Genealogy (often misspelled "geneology") is often also referred to as family history, although these terms may be used distinctly: the former being the basic study of who is related to whom; the latter involving more "fleshing out" of the lives and personal histories of the individuals involved.


Genealogists collect oral histories and preserve family stories to discover ancestors and living relatives. Genealogists also attempt to understand not just where and when people lived but also their lifestyle, biography, and motivations. Genealogists and family historians often join a Family History Society where novices can learn from more experienced researchers, and everyone benefits from shared knowledge.

Even an unsuccessful search for ancestors leads to a better understanding of history. The search for living relatives often leads to family reunions, both of distant cousins and of disrupted families. Genealogists sometimes help reunite families separated by war, immigration, foster homes, and adoption. The genealogist can help keep family traditions alive or reveal family secrets.


chroniclers traced the ancestry of several English kings back to the In its original form, genealogy was mainly concerned with the ancestry of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. The term often overlapped with heraldry, in which the ancestry of royalty was reflected in the quarterings of their coat of arms. Many of the claimed ancestries are considered by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods or the founders of their civilization. For example, the Anglo-Saxongod Woden (the English version of the Norse god Odin).[2] If these descents were true, Queen Elizabeth II would be a descendant of Woden, via the kings of Wessex. (See euhemerism.)

Sharing data among researchers

Data sharing among genealogical researchers has grown to be a major use of the Internet. Most genealogy software programs can export information about persons and their relationships in GEDCOM format, so it can be shared with other genealogists by e-mail and Internet forums, added to an online database such as GeneaNet, or converted into a family web site using online genealogical tools such as PhpGedView. Many genealogical software applications also facilitate the sharing of information on CD-ROMs and DVDs made on personal computers.

One phenomenon over the last few years has been that of large genealogical databases going online and attracting such large flash crowds that the database's host server collapses, causing service to be quickly suspended while hurried upgrades are made to accommodate the traffic load. This happened with FamilySearch, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's database of war graves, and in January 2002 with the much-anticipated British census for 1901.

Records in genealogical research

Records of persons who were neither royalty nor nobility began to be taken by governments in order to keep track of their citizens (In most of Europe, for example, this started to take place in the 16th century). As more of the population began to be recorded, there were sufficient records to follow a family using the paper trail they left behind.

As each person lived his or her life, major events were usually documented with a license, permit or report which was stored at a local, regional or national office or archive. Genealogists locate these records, wherever they are stored, and extract information to discover family relationships and recreate timelines of persons' lives.

In China and other Asian countries, genealogy books are used to record family members' names, occupations, etc. Some books are kept for hundreds or even thousands of years. In India, in the eastern state of Bihar, there is a written tradition of genealogical records among Maithil Brahmins and Karna Kayasthas called as "Panjis", dating back to 12th century AD. These records are still consulted during marriages. A Survey of the Panji of the Karan Kayasthas of Mithila. [6][7] [8]

Records that are used in genealogy research include:

  • Vital records
    • Birth records
    • Death records
    • Marriage and divorce records
  • Adoption records
  • Baptism or christening records
  • Biographies and biographical profiles (as in Who's Who, etc.)
  • Cemetery records, funeral home records, and tombstones
  • Census records
  • City directories and telephone directories
  • Coroner's reports
  • Criminal records
  • Diaries, personal letters and family Bibles
  • Emigration, immigration and naturalization records
  • Hereditary & lineage organization records, e.g. Daughters of the American Revolution records
  • Land and homestead records, deeds
  • Medical records
  • Military and conscription records
  • Newspaper columns
  • Obituaries
  • Occupational records
  • Oral history
  • Passports
  • Photographs
  • Poorhouse, workhouse, almshouse, and asylum records
  • School and alumni association records
  • Ship passenger lists
  • Social Security Administration (within the USA) and pension records
  • Tax records
  • Voter registration records
  • Wills and probate records

Reliability of sources

Information (or evidence) found in historical or genealogical sources can be unreliable and it is good practice to evaluate all sources with a critical eye. Factors influencing the reliability of genealogical information include: the knowledge of the informant (or writer); the bias and mental state of the informant (or writer); the passage of time and the potential for copying and compiling errors.

Types of genealogical information

The classes of information that genealogists seek include: place names, occupations, family names, first names, and dates. Genealogists need to understand such items in their historical context in order to properly evaluate genealogical sources.

Place names

While the place names of an ancestor’s residence or location of their life events are certainly core element of a genealogist's quest, they can often be confusing. Place names may be subject to variant spellings by partially literate scribes. Additionally, locations may have the same or substantially similar names.


Occupational information may be important to understand an ancestor’s life. Two people with the same name may be distinguished by their occupation. Also, a person’s occupation may have been related to his or her social status, political interest, and migration pattern. Since skilled trades are often passed from father to son, occupation may be indirect evidence of a family relationship.

Family names

Family names are simultaneously one of the most important pieces of genealogical information, and a source of significant confusion for researchers. In most cultures, the name of a person references the family to which he or she belongs. This is called the family name, or surname. It is often also called the last name because, for most speakers of English, the family name comes after the given name (or names). However, this is not the case in other cultures, e.g., Chinese family names precede the given name.

Given names

Genealogical data regarding given names (first names) is subject to many of the same problems as family names and place names.


It is wise to exercise extreme caution and skepticism with information about dates. Dates are more difficult to recall years after an event, and are more easily mistranscribed than other types of genealogical data. Therefore, one should evaluate whether the date was recorded at the time of the event or at a later date. Dates of birth in vital records or civil registrations and in church records at baptism are generally accurate because they were usually recorded near the time of the event.


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