What is Genealogy?

Brendan McGuigan

Genealogy is the study of a family's lineage. Many people want to trace out their family trees, or simply find a specific person in a family's past and connect him or her to other members of that family. This discipline is interested solely in who is in a family and who each person is related to, as opposed to the more general study of family history, which might also track dates of birth and death, occupations held by family members, and other important facts about their lives and deaths. While some people, on occasion, refer to this larger field as genealogy, the term is better viewed as a subset of a greater discipline.

Genealogy traces a family's lineage.
Genealogy traces a family's lineage.

Historically, genealogy was a very important field, because family connections between nobility were crucial to the idea of inheritance and the passing down of titles and rulership. In many societies, for example, if a king had no direct heir, the next closest heir would have to be found. Detailed genealogical records ensured that the passing down of titles would never have to rely on incomplete facts. Despite this, many differing records would often crop up, allowing multiple people to lay claim to a title of rulership or inheritance.

Old photographs can offer clues to people studying their ancestors and genealogy.
Old photographs can offer clues to people studying their ancestors and genealogy.

Genealogy may also play an important role in helping to restore families that have been torn apart by some larger circumstance. In the many decades after World War II, for example, genealogists have helped people displaced by the war rediscover their relatives who remained in Europe. Famines and social situations may also cause such diaspora, and the discipline may help people rediscover this lost history; many Irish families, for example, use genealogical records to help rediscover family that has been separated for two or three generations, since their families emigrated from Ireland. As another example, after the popularization of Alex Haley’s book Roots, there was renewed interest among the African American population in tracing their own family roots.

With the Internet, it is now much easier to research family connections than at any other time in history. Despite the rather large amount of false information and scams that pervade the online genealogical world, there are many legitimate and incredibly valuable resources available, allowing people who, 50 years ago, would have had to spend many years tracking down their family roots to do so in months or even weeks. The affordability of genetic analysis has also opened new doors in the field, letting normal people access scientific evidence of a connection to another person or family branch. While genetic analysis isn't entirely accurate, it is so close that it is considered by most people to be certain evidence of a family connection.

Genealogy may play an important role in helping to restore families that have been torn apart by some larger circumstance.
Genealogy may play an important role in helping to restore families that have been torn apart by some larger circumstance.

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Discussion Comments


There are a ton of genealogy sites on the internet and I am having a hard time knowing which ones are legitimate or not.

I don't know if I would trust the free genealogy sites. I don't mind paying for a service if I know the source is trustworthy.

What are some experiences others have had using some of the online genealogy sites?


As far as I know, nobody on either side of my family has done much as far as genealogy records go. I have often thought about doing this, but wouldn't even know where to start.

I think some of the new TV shows which trace the history of a family have sparked new interest in this area. I imagine many of the real life stories are just as interesting as some of the ones you see on the TV shows.


My husband has a small green book with many genealogy records of his family. This book was put together and published many years ago and several members of the family have this same book.

Not only does the book have records of marriages, births and deaths, but also includes excerpts that are very interesting to read. This is much more interesting than just reading a bunch of names and dates on a piece of paper.

I know a couple of his family members are working on putting together a new and updated version of their genealogy. Whether someone uses the internet or not, there is still a lot of work that goes into putting all these records together.


I have an uncle who has spent many years tracking down and recording our family tree genealogy. He started doing this years ago before the internet was used, and it is amazing the wealth of information he has accumulated over the years.

Now he uses the internet for a lot of his research and this has made the job so much easier. We have a very unique last name, so most people he connects with are related in some way or another.

He even plans his vacations to different parts of the country so he can meet up with some of our long lost relatives.

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