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Article by ngairedith

GENEALOGY is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives.

The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one's family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.


Hobbyist genealogists typically pursue their own ancestry and that of their spouses. Professional genealogists may also conduct research for others, publish books on genealogical methods, teach, or work for companies that provide software or online databases. Both try to understand not just where and when people lived, but also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. This often requiresor leads toknowledge of antiquated laws, old political boundaries, migration trends, and historical socioeconomic or religious conditions.


Genealogical research is a complex process that uses historical records and sometimes genetic analysis to demonstrate kinship. Reliable conclusions are based on the quality of sources, ideally original records, the information within those sources, ideally primary or firsthand information, and the evidence that can be drawn, directly or indirectly, from that information. In many instances, genealogists must skillfully assemble indirect or circumstantial evidence to build a case for identity and kinship. All evidence and conclusions, together with the documentation that supports them, is then assembled to create a cohesive genealogy or family history.

Genealogists begin their research by collecting family documents and stories. This creates a foundation for documentary research, which involves examining and evaluating historical records for evidence about ancestors and other relatives, their kinship ties, and the events that occurred in their lives. As a rule, genealogists begin with the present and work backward in time. Historical, social, and family context is essential to achieving correct identification of individuals and relationships. Source citation is also important when conducting genealogical research. To keep track of collected material, family group sheets and pedigree charts are used. Formerly handwritten, these can now be generated by genealogical software.


Genealogists use a wide variety of records in their research. To effectively conduct genealogical research, it is important to understand how the records were created, what information is included in them, and how and where to access them.

Records that are used in genealogy research include:

Vital records
* Birth records
* Death records
* Marriage and divorce records

* Adoption records
* Biographies and biographical profiles (e.g. Who's Who)
* Census records

Church records
* Baptism or christening
* Confirmation
* Bar or bat mitzvah
* Marriage
* Funeral or death
* Membership

City directories and telephone directories

Coroner's reports

Court records
* Criminal records
* Civil records

Diaries, personal letters and family Bibles

Emigration, immigration and naturalization records

Hereditary & lineage organization records, e.g. Daughters of the
American Revolution records

Land and property records, deeds

Medical records

Military and conscription records

Newspaper articles


Occupational records

Oral histories



Poorhouse, workhouse, almshouse, and asylum records

School and alumni association records

Ship passenger lists

Social Security (within the US) and pension records Tax records

Tombstones, cemetery records, and funeral home records

Voter registration records

Wills and probate records

To keep track of their citizens, governments began keeping records of persons who were neither royalty nor nobility. In England and Germany, for example, such record keeping started with parish registers in the 16th century. As more of the population was recorded, there were sufficient records to follow a family. Major life events, such as births, marriages, and deaths, were often documented with a license, permit, or report. Genealogists locate these records in local, regional or national offices or archives and extract information about family relationships and recreate timelines of persons' lives.

In China, India and other Asian countries, genealogy books are used to record the names, occupations, and other information about family members, with some books dating back hundreds or even thousands of years. In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, there is a written tradition of genealogical records among Maithil Brahmins and Karna Kayasthas called "Panjis", dating to the 12th century CE. Even today these records are consulted prior to marriages.

In Ireland, genealogical records were recorded by professional families of senchaidh (historians) until as late as the mid-17th century, when Gaelic civilization died out.
Perhaps the most outstanding example of this genre is Leabhar na nGenealach/The Great Book of Irish Genealogies, by Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh (d. 1671), published in 2004

Family names are simultaneously one of the most important pieces of genealogical information, and a source of significant confusion for researchers.

In many cultures, the name of a person refers to the family to which he or she belongs. This is called the family name, surname, or last name. Patronymics are names that identify an individual based on the father's name. For example, Marga Olafsdottir is Marga, daughter of Olaf, and Olaf Thorsson is Olaf, son of Thor.

Many cultures used patronymics before surnames were adopted or came into use.

The Dutch in New York, for example, used the patronymic system of names until 1687 when the advent of English rule mandated surname usage.

In Iceland, patronymics are used by a majority of the population.

In Denmark and Norway patronymics and farm names were generally in use through the 19th century and beyond, though surnames began to come into fashion toward the end of the 19th century in some parts of the country.

Not until 1856 in Denmark and 1923 in Norway were there laws requiring surnames.

The transmission of names across generations, marriages and other relationships, and immigration may cause difficulty in genealogical research. For instance, women in many cultures have routinely used their spouse's surnames. When a woman remarried, she may have changed her name and the names of her children; only her name; or changed no names. Her birth name (maiden name) may be reflected in her children's middle names; her own middle name; or dropped entirely.

Children may sometimes assume stepparent, foster parent, or adoptive parent names. Because official records may reflect many kinds of surname change, without explaining the underlying reason for the change, the correct identification of a person recorded identified with more than one name is challenging.

Immigrants often Americanized their names.

Surname data may be found in
* trade directories,
* census returns,
* birth, death, and marriage records

Information found in historical or genealogical sources can be unreliable and it is good practice to evaluate all sources with a critical eye.

Factors influencing the reliability of genealogical information include: the knowledge of the informant (or writer); the bias and mental state of the informant (or writer); the passage of time and the potential for copying and compiling errors.

The quality of census data has been of special interest to historians, who have investigated reliability issues

Copying and compiling errors

Genealogists must consider the effects that copying and compiling errors may have had on the information in a source.
For this reason, sources are generally categorized in two categories: original and derivative. An original source is one that is not based on another source. A derivative source is information taken from another source. This distinction is important because each time a source is copied, information about the record may be lost and errors may creep in from the copyist misreading, mistyping, or miswriting the information.

Genealogists should consider the number of times information has been copied and the types of derivation a piece of information has
undergone. The types of derivatives include: photocopies, transcriptions, abstracts, translations, extractions, and compilations.

In addition to copying errors, compiled sources (such as published genealogies and online pedigree databases) are susceptible to misidentification errors and incorrect conclusions based on circumstantial evidence.

Identity errors usually occur when two or more individuals are assumed to be the same person. Circumstantial or indirect is evidence that does not explicitly answer a genealogical question, but either may be used with other sources to answer the question, suggest a probable answer, or eliminate certain possibilities.

Compilers sometimes draw hasty conclusions from circumstantial evidence without sufficiently examining all available sources, without properly understanding the evidence and without appropriately indicating the level of uncertainty

... The family tree of Confucius (551BC - 479 BC) has been maintained for over 2,500 years and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest extant family tree. The fifth edition of the Confucius Genealogy was printed in 2009 by the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee

so, if they could do their family trees back long before pen and paper, before postal service and telephones then for us it is a breeze with our computers and all our software ... right ??

happy hunting :)

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by ngairedith Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2011-08-17 10:43:58


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by Juanita2311 on 2011-08-17 18:38:45

WRONG!!!!!!! Thankyou ngairedith. A very informative and interesting journal.

by Scott_J on 2011-08-17 20:31:06

Thanks for posting this ngairedith. I've been hoping for things like this to be written.

I turned it into an "article" which besides changing its color, makes it appear on the "articles" page where it is easier to find.

by lindsidelass on 2011-08-19 13:33:09

Ngaredith and Scott J: I am asking permission to print out the page(in total)to add to the front of my binder as an introductory page to my hobby. It will help to explain to others that come after me that family "trees" are not just diagrams on a sheet of paper. Thank you for consideration. Lindsidelass in WV, USA

by ngairedith on 2011-08-19 20:18:24

hi linsidelass,

of course you can, help yourself :)

by dj_webb18 on 2011-09-22 20:28:39

"so, if they could do their family trees back long before pen and paper, before postal service and telephones then for us it is a breeze with our computers and all our software ... right ??"

Stick with the pen and paper for your records and use the pc and internet just as a research tool is my advice. I find it becomes too time consuming to get things out from online sources and then keep pluggin them into another database on ur hard drive, you end up spending all your time fiddling with a multitude of different settings and functions on your software and not doing actual research, much easier to just handwrite what you find and develop your own shorthand for common record types to save even more time. Also putting the wrong info in the wrong place in ur computerised database can lead to allsorts of mistakes and confusions, as can your software making incorrect assumptions or handling some types of info wrongly, wheras if everything is noted clearly and in order on paper all you have to do is refer back to your notes and follow through your original workings and thought processes again to find out where any confusion came about.
One other thing is that at some point your pc will crash or ur hard drive fail or ur genealogy software will become outmoded enough to stop working (either entirely or at least correctly) which means that your entire research could become lost if you don't keep handwritten records.

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