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Genealogy or Family History?

Updated: Sep 9, 2018

Many people think that the terms genealogy and family history are interchangeable. Simply different terms for the same thing. That really is not the case.

Genealogy is the construction of a pedigree, otherwise known as a family tree. It can be quite simple, just the single line of descent for one particular person. Or, it can become more complicated as it is widened to take in a host of other connected people. That can include people who have married into the family, cousins, in-laws etc. The pedigree of the one person that pretty much went straight up, has become much broader. But, it remains a fairly simple diagram of a family, interesting in itself but with so much more that could be included.

That is where family history comes in. A genealogical pedigree won't tell you about how your ancestors lived. Family history looks at the historical timeline of the lives of your ancestors. It examines the conditions in which they lived, whether they were rich or poor. Did they experience troubled times such as the English Civil war, or the threat of Napoleonic invasion? Did they suffer from religious persecution or perhaps find themselves having to emigrate in order to experience a better life? What was it like being a pauper in 19th century England or a religious non-conformist in the 17th century?

Every good genealogist should also be a good family historian, with an appreciation and understanding of the world in which our ancestors lived, loved and raised their families. Genealogy and family history are not separate disciplines. They are part of the whole study of examining where we came from and trying to create an understanding of the lives our ancestors. As A.L Rowse, the eminent historian wrote in his work Tudor Cornwall, "their lives cannot wholly be without interest for us; they were our forefathers."

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