The word Genealogy stems from Greek: γενεαλογία genealogia and means “the making of a pedigree”. It refers to the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages.
If you are interested in your family history, there are several ways to do research. You can interview older relatives who still remember those who came before you. You can use historical records, such as church records, tax records, army records etc. You can also take help from genetic analysis, DNA tests, and other records, to find out more about a family’s history and how they are related. Depending on your country of interest, different records may of course vary in availability and reliability.
The terms are usually used interchangeably, but the traditional meaning of genealogy begins with a person who is usually deceased and continues with his or her descendants (children, grandchildren etc) forward in time, while family history begins with a person who is normally living and traces his or her ancestors (parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on) back in time. Genealogy often refers to the scholarly discipline of researching lineages and connecting generations, while family history usually refers to biographical studies of one’s family, including family stories and traditions, turning these historical findings into people of flesh and bone.
Why do Genealogy?
The reasons why a person is researching his or her family are of course as many as there are people doing it. But often it comes from a wish to find out more about oneself. Many people feel that as they get to know their ancestors they understand themselves better. Many also feel a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations.
Some people may do genealogy out of curiosity about their heritage. This can be particularly true for a person whose family histories were lost or unknown due to adoption or separation from family, death, or other reasons. Some people may research their genealogy to find out if there are any hereditary diseases in their family’s past.
The general interest in family history has grown a lot during the last few years, because it has gotten a lot of media attention, following popular TV shows like “Who Do You Think You Are?”, “My Swedish Adventure” etc. The increase in public interest in researching one’s family is also due to that now online records are much more accessible, the price of DNA test has gone down, etc.
The business of Genealogy
Amateur genealogists often research their own and / or their spouses’ ancestry.
Professional genealogists may also perform research for others, publish books on genealogical methods, or teach genealogy techniques. They can also work for companies that develop and offer services around genealogical software or produce materials of use to other professional and amateur genealogists.
Most family research is about trying to understand, not just where and when people lived, but also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. This often leads to a greater knowledge of history, antiquated laws, old political boundaries, migration trends, and historical socioeconomic or religious conditions.