Genealogy is the study and tracing of family pedigrees. This involves collecting the names of relatives (both living and deceased) and establishing the relationships between them based on primary, secondary and circumstantial evidence and documentation, thus building up a cohesive family tree.
However, simply building up a list of names and dates is likely to end up being dull – you should try and find out as much information about your ancestors as possible, and using this you can then put together their stories and gain an understanding of how they lived their life, which is what most family historians aim for.
Genealogy as a Hobby and a Profession
Finding out about your ancestors and their lives can give you a sense of excitement, and a need to know more – thus, Genealogy as a hobby can become pleasantly addictive for the researcher.
The study of family history is also undertaken professionally. This is usually to provide a commercial service to those who don't have the time to research their origins, but want to find out where they came from, or for those who need some help with their research. Studying a family history can also be done for serious legal and financial reasons, but this is rare.
The Aim of Genealogy and Family History Research
The aim of this research is usually to produce a well-documented history of your ancestors, including old certificates, old photographs, and descriptive stories about them. Many family historians find that their ancestors have done something heroic or have had a secret love, that they took part in a historical events, or something as equally fascinating. It is these interesting stories that make family historians say their research worthwhile.
It is usually best to trace the male line, because of the lack of status women had. For example, a burial record from the 1700s could say something along the lines of “John Smith's wife was buried”. As you probably know, women were thought of as being less important than men.
Look at the example of the Smith family tree. Although at first glance there isn’t much information here, there are some interesting things to note and questions that should be answered:
- Jane Smith's maiden name was Lee, what was the maiden name of her daughter-in-law, Diane?
- Alan Smith died when he was only 16 – why?
- Why is Maria Smith 20 years Joseph's junior?
These are just some examples of the types of questions you can find the answers to during your research.
Beginning your Research
So how should you begin searching into your family history? You could start by looking at the Before you Begin page of this site, as it will tell you how to begin your research, or you could look at our Case Study page to get a feel for the sense of the enjoyment and adventure family historians can have finding out what happened to their ancestors.