Genealogy fascinates much of the general public. The number of people learning more about their families and heritage through genealogy increases year to year. According to FamilyTree.com, genealogy is the second only to gardening as the most popular hobby in the United States.
People explore genealogy for many reasons, including learning about their ancestry. A rundown of the basics of genealogy can make such pursuits more enjoyable.
Genealogy, family history are subtly different
Genealogy is a line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor, while family history is defined as the history or narrative of a family. They are intertwined but not synonymous.
Vital records are key
Genealogists explore vital records to obtain information about their ancestors. Vital records include documentation of ancestors’ life events, including births, deaths, marriages, and more. Civil registration began at different times around the world, and even across North America, so it’s often challenging, though entirely possible, to develop an accurate history.
Surnames may be different
Surnames were not commonplace until around the eleventh century in Europe, according to S.C. Perkins, who is the author of a mystery series featuring a Texas genealogist as the protagonist. Surnames fall into four general categories:
1. Place or geographical features (i.e., “Hill”)
2. Nicknames or appearance (“Little”)
3. Occupation (“Baker”)
4. Father’s name (“Peterson”)
Some names may not have been recorded correctly, so a person’s last name actually may be a derivative of the real name or a misspelling. Often immigrants changed their own surnames to make them sound more American or more native to wherever they were emigrating to.
Discovering records of ancestors can be even more challenging because of shifting borders or municipalities, which change over time. The Family Tree Factbook provides European maps from throughout history and a timeline of European border changes that can help with research.
Preserve family history
In addition to uncovering mysteries of one’s heritage, dabbling in genealogy helps to preserve family history by confirming tales and tracing ancestors’ journeys. It also may help shed light on the history of artifacts or jewelry that ancestors owned and passed down.
Connect with others
A motivator behind genealogy research is to uncover relatives. Cousins from all over the world can discover they are related and bridge the gap between them through shared genetics and history. This may be particularly important to those who were adopted and hope to understand more about where they came from for personal or health-related reasons.
Genealogy is a growing hobby that can be quite rewarding. Thanks to the internet and growing databases of civil records, it’s now easier than ever to trace family histories.