Sunday, January 3, 2010

Genealogy And Family History Defined

Genealogy and family history are two terms that people use to describe the hobby of tracing your ancestors, but do they mean the same things? Not really. If you are doing genealogy, then you are basically doing a family tree, locating the vital dates of birth, marriage and death of individuals and moving farther back from one person to the next.

Family history means going beyond the confines of of a literal "family tree" to look at history and a family's place in it. When someone looks at family history, they try to see what was happening at the time a person lived, major events and much smaller, more localized events and how the person reacted with these events.

Of course, when we are tracing our family histories, one aspect of this research is trying to locate records that provide proof of an individual's birth, marriage and death. What makes this information much more interesting than a simple recitation of dates like "He was born..., he married..., he died..." is by trying to find out more about the times that ancestor lived.

As an example, I've found that some of my ancestors lived in Ireland around the end of the 1700s and early 1800s during a time of tremendous upheaval. They lived in Wexford county an area that was in bloody rebellion during the summer of 1798. I've read about many families having their homes torched, people killed, mobs of angry people marching and attacking soldiers and others, as well as battles raging around the county as the people rose up.

Wouldn't you like to know what role, if any, that your ancestors played in these events rather than just knowing their dates of birth, marriage and death? By reading about the Rebellion of 1798 in Ireland, I think I have a better handle on what my ancestors went through. Truth be told, I didn't know very much about that particular Irish rebellion, but now I am keenly interested as it affected my ancestors.

I do have a lot of information about the births, marriages and deaths of these Irish forebears, but what really excites me is the information I've uncovered about what happened to them during this rebellion. How one "had to cross a field strewn with the bodies of dead soldiers" and that they had to hide in ditches as large groups travelled the countryside, killing anyone they thought was not on their side.

That's just one part of my ancestry, a branch of my family tree that I've discovered. There are others who fought in wars, travelled to the far east, and some who simply stayed at home and tended the family farm. All are of interest because when you look at them as people during their life and times, you get a better picture of them - and maybe a better understanding of our own place in the family history.

The bottom line is that this hobby is so much more than simply looking up the date your great-great-great-grandfather was born or died, which in itself is an exciting event when you accomplish it, but also finding out what kind of world he was being born into and the surrounding events that shaped his life.

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