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Genealogists often compile pedigree charts like this one showing part of 3 generations.

Genealogy is the study of your human ancestors, their families, descendants, and the kinship relationships between them. Genealogical or family history research is the process of searching records to find information about your relatives and using those records to link individuals across several generations.

This article briefly describes key aspects of genealogical research. It also links to more detailed articles about each aspect.

Scope[edit | edit source]

Modern Western genealogists usually consider it essential to preserve the names of their ancestral family members, their relationships, and their birth-marriage-death dates and places. Citing the original sources of this information is also crucial. These names, dates, places, relationships, and sources are often recorded in computer databases and then printed on forms such as pedigrees, family group records, or descendancy charts.

Computers and the Internet have simplified and improved the recording and sharing of genealogical information. Likewise, the online availability of digital images of many original genealogical source materials from repositories around the world has made genealogical research easier, and more reliable. and are the two largest and most used websites for genealogical research and note keeping.

Many genealogists also supplement the collecting of birth-marriage-death data about their relatives with "memories" information such as biographical sketches, family histories, stories, traditions, portraits, and heraldry. Collaboration with cousins on research efforts, and socializing at family reunions are often enjoyed by genealogists. Genealogical societies exist in almost every state or nation to educate researchers about resources, best practices, and to work for the preservation of original sources. In recent decades DNA studies have begun to help genealogists prove or disprove a biological relationship between any two individuals. DNA evidence can also provide insight into the ethnic background of an individual's ancestors. In some cases genealogy research has been used to identify potential organ donors for sick patients,[1] or individuals who may have inherited genes which make them susceptible to various disorders.[2]

Genealogy is said to be the most popular hobby second only to gardening.[3] Most genealogists enjoy research as a way of detecting clues, solving puzzles, and learning about their heritage. Genealogists may learn about ancestors who participated in significant historical events such as migrations, colonization, or wars. Some genealogists are inspired by how their ancestors faced challenges, or learn what to avoid from an ancestor's mistakes. Many genealogists enjoy identifying their famous (or notorious) ancestors and cousins. Occasionally, genealogy is used to determine legal heirship rights to valuable unclaimed properties.[4] Only a small percentage of genealogists pursue it as a full-time profession. Some scholars have used genealogy as part of their historical or ethnic research. Some scientists study genealogy for genetic research purposes.

Research Steps[edit | edit source]

Genealogical research is a process. Most researchers use a cycle of five steps to help them find sources to document their ancestors' lives:

Research Guide1 HD.jpg
STEP 1: Identify What You Know
STEP 2: Decide What You Want to Learn
STEP 3: Select Records to Search.
STEP 4: Obtain and Search the Records.
STEP 5: Evaluate and Use the Information.

Successful research usually results in accurate, logical, well-documented lists of ancestors and their families. These families are usually arranged by their generation and reach back in time as far as the genealogist can find documentary evidence. Many genealogists also like to start with an early ancestor, and research the descendants of that person down to the most recent generation..

Resources[edit | edit source]

A genealogist relies on the evidence in original source documents to back up his conclusions about the relationships between ancestors. Good genealogists strive to learn about availability and content of record types so they can assess which would best help their research. Genealogists also need to have a working knowledge of using the Internet, and how to find the repositories which preserve their ancestors' records.

  • Sources. There are about 70 record types most useful to genealogists for documenting their ancestors. Original sources include civil vital records (births, marriages, and deaths), church records, census, immigration records, military records, obituaries, and wills. Compiled secondary sources such as biographies, genealogies, and local histories sometimes mention ancestors. Background information sources answer questions about geography, languages, and the history of places or groups. Finding aids identify jurisdictions, addresses, or the whereabouts of useful genealogy records.
    Johns Hopkins University Peabody Library, Baltimore, Md. Genealogists must learn sources & repositories to find ancestors.
  • Computers. You are not required to use a computer to do genealogy, but it helps. Computers help genealogists:
- keep genealogical notes such as well-documented family groups, pedigrees, and descendancy charts
- use the Internet to find online indexes, online databases, and in many cases online digital images of original source records
- use the Internet to make inquiries, or share genealogical findings and conclusions with fellow genealogists.

Best Practices[edit | edit source]

Some of the best genealogical research practices include:

Historical Uses[edit | edit source]

Genealogy has appeared in many cultures and in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Jews traditionally liked to trace their lineage back to Father Abraham (or the twelve sons of Jacob). Some lineages trace back to an ancestor who held the priesthood (kohanim) such as Levi (leviim).[5]
  • In pre-revolutionary China, Confusianism encouraged respect for ancestors, often to the point of veneration in some families.[6] A variety of compiled genealogies and lineage societies were traditional in China.
  • The Japanese royal family traces their genealogy back to 660 B.C. This lineage is considered reliable back to about 500 A.D.[7]
    Percent of allegiance to ancestor veneration by Chinese province in 2007.
  • In Myanmar there are ancestor cult records including biographical data, descendant and relationship charts from about 1500 to the present.[8]
  • Inherited leadership rights of European kings and queens depended on genealogy. The "divine right of kings" was cited to imply the favor of God for a family's rule.[9]
  • Some European nobility genealogies can be traced back as far as Charles Martel's father, Pepin II, about 700 A.D. but are questionable prior to that time.[10]
  • In most Pacific Islander cultures genealogy is traced by chanting one's lineage; often back to the man made out of sand (Tiki).[11]
  • Maori natives trace their lineages back to the canoe that first landed in New Zealand.[12]
  • Tongan status and rank in society are determined by a person's genealogical position and their family.
  • Some African cultures have wise men who can recite a person's genealogy back hundreds of years.
  • Navajo Indians are required to marry outside their own clan. It is Navajo custom when being introduced to cite one's maternal and paternal clans on both sides.[13]
  • Members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) trace their ancestors back to an American patriot in order to join the society.[14]
  • Roman Catholics say masses in behalf of deceased ancestors. Latter-day Saints are baptized in behalf of their deceased ancestors.

Reception[edit | edit source]

Genealogy is popular in many cultures. In the Western nations it is most often seen as an amatuer hobby. Genealogy sites have some of the heaviest traffic on the Internet.[3] Reviewing genealogy is often an activity at family reunions.[15] Some families hire professional genealogists to research their lines. DNA analysis of a person's ethnic background is growing in popularity.

Occasionally, over-zealous enthusiasts are regarded as snobbish because of references to illustrious ancestors. And a few genealogies are fraudulent because they falsely link to a desired ancestor. The best way of avoiding false genealogy problems is to rely on good source notes and quality research standards.The lack of proper source citations for some genealogies is a serious problem made worse when the shabby documentation is perpetuated over-and-over on the Internet.

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. The Donor Sibling Registry (accessed 24 February 2017).
  2. List of genetic disorders in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 24 February 2017).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Genealogy Is the Second Most Popular Hobby in the U.S. (blog) in (accessed 22 February 2017).
  4. NAUPA News in National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (accessed 24 February 2017).
  5. Jewish genealogy in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 February 2017).
  6. Ancestor veneration in China in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 February 2017).
  7. Imperial House of Japan in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 February 2017).
  8. Veneration of the dead in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 February 2017).
  9. Divine right of kings: political doctrine in Encyclopedia Britannica (accessed 28 February 2017).
  10. Ancestors of Charlemagne in Geni (accessed 28 February 2017).
  11. Tiki in Mythology Dictionary (accessed 28 February 2017).
  12. Maori Customs in New Zealand Maori Cultural Traits and Historical Background in Family History Research Wiki (accessed 28 February 2017).
  13. Diné Dóone’e (Navajo Clans) in (accessed 28 February 2017).
  14. DAR Daughters of the American Revolution (accessed 28 February 2017).
  15. Family History Genealogy in Reuions Magazine (accessed 4 March 2017).