What is Genealogy?
Genealogy is a subset of history. It is within the family of local and confined history as opposed to the national and world history studied at school. It is the study of personal history relating to one's own family and ancestral lines. Genealogy comes from the Greek word 'Genea' meaning 'family', and 'Logos' meaning knowledge. Genealogy does not merely refer to the building of the family tree. Finding out about family history can also mean finding out about one's roots and identity.
Genealogy has always been important historically to the ruling classes as the family name was often used to lay claim to various inheritance in the event of someone's death. This often got confusing as there were many people who had the same name or were related on the female side of the family. The older records relating to these times can be quite inaccurate as people were not above taking another name in order to claim money or land.
Later Genealogy provided another use in tracing missing family, particularly in the face of social disaster or other significant events. During the war many families were displaced, particularly during the Second World War. The study of genealogy and the tracing of families are significant in aiding many families to find one another in such times. It is also sometimes used for people trying to find lost family members from a side of the family that is estranged or that have emigrated, perhaps. Some who are also trying to piece together their own identity and discover their cultural roots may also use genealogy to find out about family they may not have knowledge of.
Genealogy is usually used today to find out about one's own family history out of interest and find out about one's roots and identity. It has been further popularised by its recent high profile in the media in television programmes such as 'Who do you think you are?'. It has also been made far more accessible to the average person.
Formerly finding out about family history was a long and laborious process that bore little fruit. It often needed some form of expertise to source information which could also prove to be very expensive. In addition to this the law made it difficult to obtain certain documents enabling people to access information. However, today the internet has enabled millions of people worldwide to trace their family history without it being a process that takes many years of great expense. There are also many books, magazines and organisations to enable anyone who wishes to trace their lines of ancestry. The law has also changed to allow people access to certain documents that reveal family history.
Genealogy, today then, is a far more rewarding interest for people. It does not require an enormous amount of pre-existing expertise and there is a lot of support available for those tracing their lineage. People who look into their family history often report that it can be a fascinating and addictive hobby which gives great insight to where you come from.
It is easy to begin the practice of genealogy. There are several ways in which you can start. The first and perhaps the most appropriate for a beginner is to look at following just one line of ancestry. If you look at all your ancestors this is much more difficult as you have to keep doubling your numbers for every generation you go back and it is quite problematic keeping track of all your ancestors and gathering complete information on all of them.
Another way in which you can trace your family history is to find out about the descendants of a chosen ancestor. However this line of enquiry means some family members, particularly those that remained childless might be overlooked. Instead you might consider a subset of genealogy - a one name study where you investigate a surname and reveal the family history through this.
There are a number of sources that can enable you to trace your roots. You can begin immediately by looking online at the various websites designed to help you. You can begin by looking at GENUKI the genealogy website for the UK and http://cyndislist.com which gives many useful websites. You can get in touch with others tracing families, look at documents and records online and ask the experts for a bit of help. You can also find information form your local library and parish which also contain records. Your local parish may have records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Your library might have a study area where you can access the national census records from 1801 to 1901 which contain births, deaths and marriages. From this starting point you can find your family history.