Genealogy also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history
Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά genea, "generation"; and λόγος logos, "knowledge"), also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives.
The pursuit of family history and origins tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.
Hobbyist genealogists typically pursue their own ancestry and that of their spouses. Professional genealogists may also conduct research for others, publish books on genealogical methods, teach, or produce their own databases. They may work for companies that provide software or produce materials of use to hobbyist and other professional genealogists. Both try to understand not just where and when people lived, but also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. This often requires—or leads to—knowledge of antiquated laws, old political boundaries, migration trends, and historical socioeconomic or religious conditions.
Genealogists sometimes specialize in a particular group, e.g. a Scottish clan; a particular surname, such as in a one-name study; a small community, e.g. a single village or parish, such as in a one-place study; or a particular, often famous, person. Bloodlines of Salem is an example of a specialized family-history group. It welcomes members who can prove descent from a participant of the Salem Witch Trials or who choose simply to support the group.
Genealogists and family historians often join family history societies, where novices can learn from more experienced researchers. Such societies may also index records to make them more accessible, and engage in advocacy and other efforts to preserve public records and cemeteries. Some schools engage students in such projects as a means to reinforce lessons regarding immigration and history. Other benefits include family medical histories with families with serious medical conditions that are hereditary.
The use of the terms "genealogy" and "family history" are often used synonymously, but some offer a slight difference in definition. The Society of Genealogists, while also using the terms interchangeably, describe genealogy as an "Establishment of a Pedigree by extracting evidence, from valid sources, of how one generation is connected to the next" and family history as "A biographical study of a genealogically proven family and of the community and country in which they lived". Sometimes the term used is based on region, with societies in Europe often using the term "family history", and those in the United States more often using the term "genealogy".
In communitarian societies, one's identity is defined as much by one's kin network as by individual achievement, and the question "Who are you?" would be answered by a description of father, mother, and tribe. New Zealand Māori, for example, learn whakapapa (genealogies) to discover who they are.
Family history plays a part in the practice of some religious belief systems. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has a doctrine of baptism for the dead, which necessitates that members of that faith engage in family history research.
Until the late 19th century, family histories were almost exclusively of interest to persons who had obtained their wealth or rank by inheritance. Other people, who had inherited nothing, might, in extreme cases, suppress their family history as a matter of shame.
In societies such as the United States or Australia, there was by the 20th-century growing pride in the pioneers and nation-builders. Establishing descent from these was a concern in groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, and helped differentiate those descendants from later immigrants with lower status.
In Nazi Germany, family histories were compiled to affirm individuals' affiliation with the "master race" and to adhere to legal requirements for marriage. In Germany today, family history is still often perceived as a threat to privacy rather than as a source of self-esteem. Most 20th-century sources remain unavailable to the public on privacy grounds. Funding of support for family history at archives is limited. German family historians thus tend to emphasize instead how family history can contribute to learning and science.
Modern family history explores new sources of status, such as celebrating the resilience of families that survived generations of poverty or slavery, or the success of families in integrating across racial or national boundaries. Some family histories even emphasize links to celebrity criminals, such as the bushranger Ned Kelly in Australia.
The growing interest in family history in the media coupled with easier access to online records has allowed those who are curious to do so to start investigating their ancestry. This curiosity can be particularly strong among those whose family histories were lost or unknown due to, for example, adoption or separation from family, perhaps as a result of bereavement.