What is the Difference between Genealogy and Family History and Where Do I start?

The terms Genealogy and Family History are often used interchangeably within the field of ancestor research, even by many professional researchers. They both involve seeking information about your ancestors so what is the difference?Genealogy is the study of ancestry and descent and refers more to the actual search for ancestors and descendants, with your pedigree being a single direct line backward from yourself. That is 2 parents, 4 grand-parents, 8 great grand-parents and so on.Once upon a time genealogy was the prerogative of the rich and individuals who had lots of spare time and an ability to visit physical archives during standard business hours. It’s primary function was often to prove a familial relationship for the purposes of inheritance.Genetic Genealogy includes the use of DNA testing in combination with traditional genealogy and historical records to infer relationships between individuals.Family History, in my opinion, is genealogy come alive. Family History takes genealogy to the next level, it looks not just at names, dates, places but seeks to place your ancestors lives in context, to seek out the family stories, legends and myths. Family History looks at the entire family unit in each generation, when, where and how they lived, worked, played, travelled and the family triumphs and tragedies that occurred and, possibly most importantly of all, place these events within the context of the social, economic, historical and environmental world in which your ancestors lived. Family History does not seek to judge your ancestors by the standards and legislation of the present day but rather to understand the environment, attitudes and legislation in which your ancestor lived.It is said that we neither own the triumphs of our ancestors, nor are we responsible for their actions. Family History can also include those members of the family that are a part of the family by way of informal and formal adoption, and marriage.So where do you start?Whether you choose genealogy, family history, whether or not to incorporate DNA testing into your ancestral research, or choose to research your non-traditional modern family you start with yourself. Then you research one generation at a time, generally, but not always, working backwards as you find and prove or disprove known family facts always working from a known, proven fact towards your goal.There are three main routes which can be used to trace your genealogy and family history:-

  1. Do it all yourself
  2. Work in conjunction with a genealogist or Genealogists.com
  3. Hire a genealogist to undertake an ancestral research project for you.

The DIY RouteIn option one, you would follow a step by step process to track and evaluate the documentary evidence, working backwards, and if you like forwards, and sideways starting with yourself, your parents, your grandparents and so on. There are many excellent free resources on-line with more information coming along every day. In addition there are a number of equally excellent subscription site available throughout the world. However current estimates are that still only between 5% and 10% of records are currently available on line. Many of these cover the period of between mid-1800s and early 1900s. So if you want to do all of the research yourself, unless your ancestors stayed in a small geographical area for many generations be prepared to travel. This too can be great fun with new adventures for the entire family.Partnership Working with a GenealogistOption two, can facilitate a mix of option one and option three, whereby a genealogist like myself will, either at least initially, take a project management lead role. Depending on your starting point – what you know, what you can prove, you would then be given directional step by step help to search for what you can your-self with the genealogist providing additional document retrieval if necessary, and taking you through the processes of analysis. This can be designed with as light a hand as required. The focus of the genealogist’s work can be varied as time goes by and your knowledge grows and/or be switched to searching for documentation that is not available on-line. This option can often work very well with stage payments (depending on your genealogist) which can be varied to suit time, budget, and information found.Or you can hire a genealogist to follow a particular tricky family line or research one individual from your family tree. Sometimes all you may need is someone to pick up, copy and email a digital copy of a specific document that can only be retrieved from an archive that is just too far away from you to make retrieval cost effective to do it yourself. Genealogists.com is a particularly time and financially effective way of reaching many different geographical areas for specialist research both large and small. (Especially useful for tracking ancestors on the move)Again when you are ready to finally write up your family history or genealogy, the options for the amount of input by the genealogist can vary from any mix of writing a book, editing your work, helping with layout, offering different ideas for visual and oral presentation or organising for the printing of the final work.Let a Professional do the work on your behalfOption three, a genealogist like myself, completes all research, analysis, reporting and should you want will design, and write a hard-copy or e-book for you. Budgets should be agreed in advance, will be dependent on surviving records and how far back you wish to search and probably most importantly where records pertaining to your ancestor(s) are to be found.Click here to receive help from an expert with your genealogy research.

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Written by


August 4, 2017
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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