Have you thought about tracing your ancestry and family history but weren't sure how to begin? Maybe you would like to ensure that there is an accurate record detailing your genealogy but are unsure how to start the process? If so, you aren't alone. Genealogy, or the quest for discovering one's family history in an accurate and truthful manner, has quickly become a popular hobby. Multiple resources can help users find answers about their family history and separate fact from fiction. Whether one is adopted, separated from family members, or simply looking for more information for their family tree, the field of genealogy is vast and incorporates multiple branches. With various types of records, documentation, and multiple streams of research, anyone can begin researching their family history and document their genealogy.
History of Genealogy
While no one knows exactly when genealogy originated, it may be that as soon as man began keeping written accounts, the need for establishing family records was in order. In early human history, people kept genealogies or heraldry to show social status or establish a royal pedigree. Kings and queens ascended to the throne by birthright, and the need for accurate, written records of lineage was clear. During the Middle Ages, churches began keeping records of patrons, thus establishing records used in genealogical research. It wasn't until modern times, when the advent of the Internet allowed everyday people tools needed to trace their ancestry, that genealogy began to morph into the hobby it is today. Modern methods help weed out fake histories, thereby enabling genealogists to document an accurate account of a family line. Some of the oldest known genealogies include those of Confucius, early kings and pharaohs, dynastic leaders, and records found in the Bible and other religious books. Many genealogies date back thousands of years, but whether or not they are proven verifiable is often a matter of debate. In modern genealogies, the search for verifiably accurate records is paramount to establishing a legitimate family tree.
Types of Records and Documentation
Oral history has often been passed down from one generation to the next; however, this is hardly a verifiable source of accurate genealogical documentation. Numerous records and documents exist that can help create a genealogical record that withstands careful scrutiny. Some records and documents commonly used to establish genealogy include marriage, divorce, birth, and death certificates, military, immigration, naturalization, and emigration records, church documentation (such as baptisms, christenings, funeral services, or religious rites of passage), court records (including wills and criminal, guardianship, adoption, and probate papers), census records, property ownership, deeds, and other land titles and records, tax documents, records of adoption, passports, employment records, voter registrations, Social Security indexes, and more. While oral histories may be used as a starting point, they should never be relied upon for accurate information. Instead, use oral histories as a starting point, then find the appropriate records or documentation needed to verify them.
Identifying Reliable Resources
Unfortunately, not all historical records are accurate, making the genealogist's job much more difficult. Those who collect and then accept every record available without consideration of the record's reliability may find they do not have an accurate family history. Several factors contribute to unreliable genealogical records, such as the aim or motivation of the original person who was responsible for the documentation or even errors that were copied and passed down over the years. When identifying reliable resources for accurate genealogies, keep in mind that there are two types of sources of information: primary and secondary. A primary source of information or record is the originator of the record. For example, church records regarding a birth, death, or funeral service written at the time of the event would be primary. A written account compiled years later and based upon information others had obtained would be secondary. Look for primary sources given by informants who were witnesses to the event at the time it occurred to ensure greater reliability.
Types of Information
Several types of information make up the crux of a genealogist's job. In order to create a reliable history, certain key elements must be known, gathered, researched, and then scrutinized for reliability. The most important types of information genealogists use include family and given names, dates, locations or names of places, and work-related or occupational data. Understanding customs or practices that were widely used throughout the period, place, or culture a person may have lived in is also of great value. One problem that frequently arises when trying to establish reliable genealogies is distinguishing people with the same name. It's important to use all available tools at your disposal when separating a person's identity from other same-name people, those who use nicknames, and those with similar occupations. Some records may list a person by their given name and then use a nickname, causing the unsuspecting researcher to think there were two people in the family line when truly there was one. The spellings of town or city names may change from one record to the next. Knowing variations of a spelling over time will help the genealogist create an accurate record.
The Research Process
Modern-day genealogists have a host of tools available at their disposal to use when researching or tracing family histories. While not all records are reliable and there is a strong need to use primary sources as opposed to secondary ones, there is one tool that modern-day researchers have that can create accurate genealogies: genetic analysis. DNA testing and genetic analysis can be used to trace or verify a particular lineage, should all the required factors and information be given. Genetic analysis can also show what region a person's ancestors originally came from, thus providing more information that may be used to create reliable records. While many family histories begin with oral tradition, modern researchers may find that science is what puts the missing pieces of a puzzle together and creates a full picture. In many cases, the research process begins with oral traditions and histories, written records and documents including primary and secondary sources, networking together with other researchers and sharing family lineages, then confirming results through scientific analysis by means of genetic or DNA testing. Genealogy is one of the fastest-growing and popular hobbies worldwide. You may find more information about genealogy and how to begin the search for your own family history with the links below.