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I will be teaching the genealogy classes at the library beginning next month. Since I have not been teaching them for awhile now, I have been doing additional research as a result.  I’ll be posting some of the things I have learned, as well as remarks on some of the books I have used.  I thought I would start at the beginning.  I have just learned from the FamilySearch Blog that there has been a lively debate going on over at Wikipedia about whether or not the terms genealogy and family history mean the same thing.  The people at Wikipedia have decided to use the two terms interchangeably.  Although people commonly do this,  I believe that there is a distinction.

Ever since I started tracing my family, the term genealogy to me has meant the direct ascent to or descent from an ancestor (depending on which way you are going).  Your line begins with yourself, then focuses on your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents.  The concept is embodied in the pedigree charts that are used to track ancestors as well as in the idea of the family tree.

Family history encompasses much more.  To begin with, it includes the brothers and sisters of your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents onward (or perhaps I should say backwards.)  It can include anyone living in the various households of your ancestors, including adopted children and extended family members.  The family group sheet illustrates this. It is the form that you use to visualize the relationships of the members of each household.  In it you include information on the birth, marriage(s), and death of each person. This is practical even if you are just interested in extending your family line.  When you hit a brick wall in your research, you may be able to get around it by looking for the needed information through a sibling and then tracking back to your ancestor.

Family history also extends into other areas to give you a fuller picture of a family at specific times and places. Genealogy makes up the outline of a family.    Learning of local and national events, discovering family stories, finding photos of family members, these all contribute depth and richness to your family history.  Sometimes finding a piece of history helps explain some change or move that took place.  The combination of personal and historical research on an ancestor can lead to forgotten or unknown events that radically changed the course of that family.  Your family becomes far more interesting than a listing of names, dates, and places.

The source of my original understanding of what genealogy is I do not remember.  My sense of the breadth of family history grew over time.  One source for these definitions that I am currently aware of is Val Greenwood.  In his work, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, his chapter 10 is entitled “Family History: Going Beyond Genealogy.”  In it he states While the goal of the genealogist has traditionally been to identify and link together past generations of ancestors into pedigrees, the goal of today’s family historian is to do that as well as to understand something of the lives and times of specific persons, couples or families over one or more generations.  

To me the distinction works.  What do you think?

vea/15 August 2013
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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