What Is Family History?

I must admit I did lie before in a previous post. I had mentioned in my What Is Genealogy post that genealogy can simply be referred to as family history, and vice versa. So, what is family history then and is there a difference?

What Is Family History?

Most people would regard these two terms as one and the same thing. But they aren’t really.

Are you confused?

Well, then in this article I will clearly define what is family history and also what is genealogy.

Discussed in this post:

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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.

Defining What It All Means

It is built on giving guidance, tips, strategies, resources and reviews of products that will help you carry out your family history research.

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.

Another definition of these terms!

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.

There are many family history societies in the United Kingdom.

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.

Family History 101

The further back that we find these facts then the higher up that our tree will climb.

Outward and upwards!

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.

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.

Why not join a society?

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.

Or, check out a genealogy site?

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.


My 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 have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.

10 Comments

  1. Furkan February 15, 2017
    • Owain February 16, 2017
  2. Tasleem February 15, 2017
    • Owain February 15, 2017
  3. Francis Donaghy February 7, 2017
    • Owain February 8, 2017
  4. Kevin Bulmer February 7, 2017
    • Owain February 8, 2017
  5. Gaylene Nepia February 7, 2017
    • Owain February 7, 2017

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