Genealogy (from Greek: γενεαλογία genealogia “the making of a pedigree”) is the study of families, family history, and the tracing of their lineages. A professional NZ Genealogist uses oral interviews, 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. Although generally used interchangeably, the traditional definition of “genealogy” begins with a person who is usually deceased and traces his or her descendants forward in time, whereas, “family history” begins with a person who is usually living and traces his or her ancestors.
Genealogy & Family History
Both the National Genealogical Society in the United States and the Society of Genealogists in the United Kingdom state that the word “genealogy” often refers to the scholarly discipline of researching lineages and connecting generations, whereas “family history” often refers to biographical studies of one’s family, including family narratives and traditions.
The pursuit of family history and origins tends to be shaped by several motives, 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 self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling. Genealogy research is also performed for scholarly or forensic purposes.
Amateur 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 produce their own databases. They may work for companies that provide software or produce materials of use to other professionals and to amateurs. Both try to understand not just where and when people lived, but also their lifestyles, biographies, and motivations. This often requires, or leads to, knowledge of antiquated laws, old political boundaries, migration trends, and historical socio-economic or religious conditions.
Genealogists sometimes specialize in a particular group, e.g. a Scottish clan; a particular surname, such as in a one-name study; a small community, e.g. a single village or parish, such as in a one-place study; or a particular, often famous, person. Bloodlines of Salem is an example of a specialized family-history group. It welcomes members who can prove descent from a participant of the Salem Witch Trials or who simply choose to support the group.
Family history societies
Genealogists and family historians often join family history societies, where novices can learn from more experienced researchers. Such societies generally serve a specific geographical area. Their members may also index records to make them more accessible, and engage in advocacy and other efforts to preserve public records and cemeteries. Some schools engage students in such projects as a means to reinforce lessons regarding immigration and history. Other benefits include family medical histories with families with serious medical conditions that are hereditary.
The terms “genealogy” and “family history” are often used synonymously, but some offer a slight difference in definition. The Society of Genealogists, while also using the terms interchangeably, describes genealogy as the “establishment of a Pedigree by extracting evidence, from valid sources, of how one generation is connected to the next” and family history as “a biographical study of a genealogically proven family and of the community and country in which they lived”.
Hire a Genealogist
When you hire a genealogist, be aware of their certifications and worldwide accessibility. The Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS, was formalized in 2000 by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, whose goal is to ensure that genealogists meet a minimum standard when seeking to prove ancestry.
You’ll see two main credentials in genealogy, an AG (through ICAPGen) and a CG (through the Board for Certification of Genealogists). A Certified Genealogist involves similar requirements as the Accreditation with a slightly different focus. The CG is not geographic specific, but instead takes a closer look at a genealogist’s ability to interpret documents and resolve contradictory evidence. Since this is what a genealogist is often hired for, there is value in the qualifications required by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
Professional genealogy companies have team members who speak and read many different languages, being able to access records of immigration from the country of origin. Tracing family history is most cost and time effective when hiring these experts so individuals are not traveling for specific records.
Many people are interested in joining lineage societies such as the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution (SAR/DAR), Mayflower Society, etc. Each of these societies has different requirements for membership, but they all have fairly strict policies on documentation. A professional genealogist can help you collect the documentation you need to submit a successful application to whichever lineage society you might be interested in.