What Is Family History?

By | February 6, 2017

First off, I’ll come to the truth and say “I lied“. I had previously mentioned in my What Is Genealogy post that genealogy can simply be referred to as family history, and vice versa. Well this is not exactly true, even though most people would regard these as one and the same thing. Are you confused? Well then in this article I will clearly define what is family history and also what is genealogy.

What Is Family History?


Defining What It All Means!

Let us start with the term ‘genealogy‘ since this site is based around this word. After all this site is geared around helping you the genealogist, (or should that be family historian), to discovering your ancestors. It is built on giving guidance, tips, strategies, resources and reviews of products that will help you carry out your family history research.

Defining What It All Means

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘genealogy‘ as:

A line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor, i.e. the study and tracing of lines of descent.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘family history‘ on the other hand as:

The history of a family; a narrative about this. In later use also: the study of the history of a family or families; genealogy as an area of research.

Ah, so you see from the second definition genealogy is in fact part of family history, i.e. a subset of it as it were. This is quite interesting as the origin behind the word ‘genealogy‘ comes from the Greek word ‘genealogia‘. However, the term ‘family history‘ arrives much later, sometime in the early 18th Century.

Let’s look at another definition of these terms to make things a little clearer!

Wikipedia.org defines ‘genealogy’ as:

“The study and tracing of family pedigrees. This involves the collection of the names and relatives, both living and deceased, and establishing the relationships among them based on primary, secondary and/or circumstantial evidence and documentation, thus building up a cohesive family tree.”

While Wikipedia.org defines ‘family history’ as:

“The systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family, or specific families.”

Searching For Genealogy and Family History

If you search for ‘family history‘ on Wikipedia though you will be redirected to an article on genealogy. This is because on June 25th 2013 Wikipedia, after a two-year discussion on this debate decided to merge both genealogy and family history into the one article.

Many people have decided that both of these terms are one and the same and can be used interchangeably. The term ‘genealogy‘ is in fact searched online twice as much as ‘family history’.

I suspect though that the reason for this is maybe because of the American fascination with this hobby. In the United Kingdom there are many family history societies. However, in the United States these are called genealogical societies.


Building Our Family Tree

By carrying out genealogy we can create and build up our family tree. We can look at records such as Censuses, births, deaths and marriage certificates, and so on to collect our ancestors names and their details to our tree. The further back that we find these facts then the higher up that our tree will climb.

Family History 101

Not only can we find out details about our ancestors like this but we can also use the same methods to discover our ancestors siblings as well. This is what I first did when I was researching my own family tree. I was not only fascinated with discovering who my ancestors were and what they did, but also about their families as well.

It’s entirely up to you though as to what you want to discover. You may just be interested in your ancestors, or you may want to discover much more. For me I was interested in finding out about my ancestors families for two reasons.

The reasons for researching my ancestors families:

1. The families of our ancestors played an important in the lives of our ancestors. Just think about you and your family. For example, you maybe working in a job which your brother or sister helped you get. Our siblings therefore have impacted on our lives

This is certainly true for my great grandfather. His brother-in-law worked for a telephone company and because of this he was able to get my great grandfather repairing telephone lines. It was only researching records that I was able to make this interesting connection.

2. The possibility of finding living relations. When we trace our family tree we do not know who we will discover. This is certainly true for when we will unexpectedly come across cousins who are also researching the family tree.

I have met several cousins of mine whilst researching my family tree. Because I explored my ancestors siblings, and to some extent their descendants then I was able to see the relationship to these new-found relatives and how they fitted into my family history.

It’s always fun when we discover living relatives. Not only this but we can also share and compare research on our family history. Genealogy is not only a hobby that we can do ourselves, but we can also do it with our family, and our new-found cousins as well.


The Stories of our Ancestors

Once we have built our family tree and have put in our ancestors names and their details then we can get to know them better. We can do this the same way that we did to build our tree in the first place, by research.

Ask Our Relatives For Help

We can look at journals and newspaper articles, and whatever other sources of information that is at our disposal. One way that we can learn about our ancestors is by interviewing our older relatives and also friends who knew them. We can learn so much about their lives by this method.

==> Top 20 Family History Interview Questions <==

Joining a local family history society or a library is also a good way to get to know about our ancestors. They can point us in the right direction to get more information. For example, from these sources we can learn about the area in which our ancestors both lived and worked.

By understanding both the geography and political background of our ancestors homeland we can discover what they did for work, and maybe why they may have emigrated. By researching my ancestors in this way I learned why my ancestors traveled many hundreds of miles, i.e. in order to find work.

Genealogy search websites such as Ancestry, FamilySearch and FindMyPast contain a plethora of information on our ancestors that we can use in our research. They can not only help us build our family tree but also tell us about their lives as well.

From these sites you can find immigration and travel records, military records, trade directors, wills and probates, and much more. All of these records can help us build up a picture of our ancestors lives.


Final Thoughts

Genealogy has helped me to build my family tree and see who my ancestors were. Then by carrying out family history research I have learned so much more about them. And then finally from all of this research I wrote my very own family history book that I can cherish and pass on to my children.

Credit:   Ancestry

A family history book is a good way that you can write about the lives of your ancestors. By writing you can make sense of your notes and put key events of your ancestors lives in order. By doing this it has also helped me see gaps in my knowledge of my ancestors and so what information that I next need to get.

From reading this article I hope that you now know a little more about family history and what genealogy is all about. I hope that you have learned that there is indeed a difference between these two terms.

Despite this new understanding of this hobby you still may wish to refer to it as either genealogy or family history.

So what do you prefer to call it? I would really love to hear from you and know your thoughts. Please tell me about how you have conducted your research and what you have learned about your ancestors along the way.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed reading this article about what is family history. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

10 thoughts on “What Is Family History?

  1. Gaylene Nepia

    Hi Owain,

    Thanks for the information. I prefer to call it genealogy. In my culture genealogy or (refereed to as “whakapapa” in my culture) is critical to our identity. We can easily trace our genealogy back 8 generations and with a little more research could probably go a bit further. Sites like yours is a great source of inspiration for people looking to trace their origins. Thanks again Owain 🙂

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That’s incredible that you can trace your ancestry back 8 generations. Shame that I cannot say the same, although I have tried. Just keep hitting brick walls.

      I am glad that you find the site inspiring. I want to help people enjoy this hobby as much as I have.

      Reply
  2. Kevin Bulmer

    Hi Owain,
    The idea of discovering more about our ancestors, and what stories they have to reveal, is very appealing. I appreciate how you’ve laid out your interpretations of both genealogy and family history to see how the two come together. It’s really intriguing to think about and, I’m sure, to investigate.
    Keep up the great work
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Kevin,

      It’s really an eye-opener what these two terms actually mean. Most people do regard them as one and the same, although there are clearly differences. I suppose though that people do dictate what they can mean as many English words have changed definitions over time.

      Reply
  3. Francis Donaghy

    Hey Owain, another great post. i do like definitions-based articles. I’m a very precise person, so the article works for me.
    Keep up your good work.
    Francis.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Francis,
      I wanted to clearly define what these terms actually meant so I am glad that it worked for you.

      Reply
  4. Tasleem

    Hi Owain,
    As usual great post! I’d prefer be called a family historian! Sounds scholarly! I have been able to trace back to 6 generations so far and I don’t think I will be able to go back any further and it is truly amazing to discover your ancestors, they are part of us, right?

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      That’s great Tasleem that you have gone back 6 generations. Is that on each and every generation. I am still trying to go back further on my mother side, but I am getting there. There is just so much information out there to find out on our ancestors.

      Reply
  5. Furkan

    I always thought that genealogy and family history are same things. Well apparently it is far from the truth. And I also have similar story for jobs my grandfather was about producing shoes and his son is also in some other shoe industry. I thought it was a coincidence but after reading this I think it is not.

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Generally they are different things but nowadays the meaning of both have seem to have changed. They are now regarded as one and the same.

      Interesting that my ancestors and yours worked in the shoe industry. Thank you for sharing Furkan.

      Reply

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