Do you know the difference between genealogy and family history?

When you are a beginning genealogist; taking those first tentative steps in researching your ancestry, it can be hard to tell the difference between them.

The terms genealogy and family history refer to two separate but equally significant approaches to exploring your roots. The fundamental difference between the two methods lies in the sources of information used to carry out the research. These sources consist of primary, secondary and tertiary information.

The study of genealogy refers to fact-based research about your ancestry. It is the concrete process of searching for your genetic origins by gathering and documenting the names, dates, and locations of your predecessors. Genealogy requires compliance with accurate information filed in the public record to provide irrefutable evidence of your lineage.

A genealogist’s tools are the source materials, such as Statutory Index Records of marriages, births, deaths, and baptisms, although sometimes family bibles and Census Records can be primary sources. To properly conduct genealogical research, you’ll want to use only primary source information, which means using any record that shows a first-hand account of an event and contains a witness signature.

Family History refers to the study of unique details and personal events in the lives of your ancestors; it is his story told by you, his descendant. Family history research develops the full story that gives life and character to your family tree by including the private details of your past generations; these are the finer points of lives lived that are not found solely in public records. A family historian may use secondary and even tertiary information such as old photographs, diaries, letters, and family traditions.

That’s not to say you can’t use primary sources for family history research. The study of family history often requires the need to read between the lines of public documents and dig a little deeper to find the story that lies within. Some truly wonderful opportunities for family history are hidden in genealogical data.

Using a fantastic clue found in an old parish register, I’ll show you how the two can work together.

Genealogical data + the family historian = a great story

OPR excerpt:

Carstairs Parish, Lanark County. Dated May 2. 1790

“On May 2nd, this day, Alexander Gibson at Longflush and Christian Weir had a daughter {Begot in Fornication}. Baptized, named Janet Gibson.”

The Family History Element

This Scottish baptismal record from 1790 tells us that the child who was baptized was “begotten in fornication.” Even so, both the father and the mother were listed in the parish register.

Sensing a good family history, I investigated what the term “Fornication Begotten” would have meant to the lives of these people in 1700s Scotland.

What I discovered was that the community was very narrow-minded in those days, rushing offenders into sessions. In this case, the boy’s father came forward and admitted responsibility for him. That is why he was listed in the registry even though he did not marry his mother. The boy’s parents who are from “good churchgoing families” would have been publicly called to duty and admonished for their sin, this over a period of three Sundays in normal services. After being considered publicly humiliated, they would be, as it were, returned to the fold and the child would be baptized.

The short and sweet answer to the question; Do you know that the difference between genealogy and family history is…?

You are a genealogist when: You are searching for and documenting primary source records and your concern is with factual, substantiated accounts of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

You are a family historian when: You are using those facts in addition to reported events that, while likely, may not be corroborated by first-hand account in available records; with the purpose of telling the story of his family’s unique and very personal past.

No matter what your method, don’t be surprised if by rediscovering their lives, you gain a better understanding of your own.

Genealogy or family history?

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