Is there any difference between ‘Genealogy’ and ‘Family History’?

By Martin Flint

The terms ‘Genealogy’ and ‘Family History’ are often used synonymously, and many people confuse the two, but for me there is an important difference between Genealogy and Family History.

‘Genealogy’ is simply the study of a person’s ancestry and descendents – it deals with discovering who members of a specific family are and how these family members are related to others.  This was particularly important years ago to determine the relationships of the rich and powerful, because practical concerns about who inherited what from whom were at stake.  If a King or Duke had no legitimate children, then it was vital to establish the next lawful heir to the throne or dukedom; wars and armed conflict have historically been the result of such lack of accepted evidence.

‘Family History’ is much broader.  It encompasses genealogy, in so far as you need to discover birth, marriage and death dates, and any children, for your ancestors. However, this basic genealogical information constitutes only the foundations.  What a Family Historian should aim to do is to find out how the ancestor lived and worked.

Family History is much more a journey of exploration of your ancestor’s life – the area in which they lived and worked, what their homes were like, what jobs they did and how they did them, did they need to cope with sickness and poverty.  And to do this, you need to look beyond Censuses, civil Birth, Marriage and Death records, and Parish Registers.

You will need to delve into a whole host of other sources.  If your ancestors were poor, then Poor Law and Workhouse records are a must to investigate.  If your ancestors were better off, then you should look at tax records and wills.

And if your ancestors were in the armed forces or spent time in prison, you’ll get a description of what they looked like and what happened to them while they were in these institutions.

And that’s only the start!  There is much more information you can find to build up your Family History. If you want the comprehensive list of where to find the sources you can research, especially those in the first half of the 19th Century and before, then go to the home page of this website and you’ll find it’s all set out in my book ‘How To Track Down Your Ancestors’.

You’ll then be able to start building a ‘proper’ Family History of your ancestors!


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