Ancestry, Genealogy and Family Trees

When researching your family tree there is a great deal of semantics used to distinguish between many aspects of what you are doing. Thus, is it ancestry or genealogy you are carrying out? The answer to that is simple, but it indicates how semantics can cloak the real aspects of what you are trying to achieve – even though it might be necessary sometimes.

Genealogy is the name given to the study of ancestry just like criminology is the study of crime. Your ancestry is your origins in terms of those responsible for your existence down the ages, while genealogy is the study of these ancestors, or researching who they were.

Genealogy Research: Your Paternal and Maternal Ancestry

Genealogy definitions tend to come in twos, and two others are maternal and paternal ancestry – the former referring to your mother’s side of your family and the latter to your father’s side. Maternal ancestry works through analysis of Mitochondrial DNA whilst paternal lineage by analysis of the Y chromosome. When studying the genealogy of their family, most people will initially focus on their maternal or their paternal ancestry, but not both at the same time.

Then we come to the ancestors and relatives themselves. Direct ancestors are those ultimately responsible for your birth: had they not existed, then neither would you have existed. If your great-great grandfather had married another women your parents might still have had a child, but it wouldn’t have been you – and they might not have been married to each other because either your mother or your father wouldn’t have existed either, depending on whether your great-great-grandfather was maternal or paternal. Confused yet?

Those ancestors that are not direct could technically not be described as ancestors. Thus, while your aunt is a relative, she is not an ancestor. Therefore, those in your ancestor’s family that were not responsible for your existence are referred to as ‘collateral relatives’. They are related to you, but sideways, or laterally, and you would still be here even if they had not been born.

Then we have direct and indirect sources you can use to determine your ancestry in genealogy. Direct sources state where you were at a specific time and place, or state something definite, such as that you were born. Thus, a birth certificate is a direct source, indicating that you were definitely born and who your parents were. A death certificate is a direct source proving your death and an indirect source for your birth because you would have to have been born to have died! Indirect sources include driving licenses, marriage certificates and other documents proving your existence, though the marriage is a direct source for you being married. Still not confused? There are also ancestry tests available that help discover your ancient ancestors taking you back thousands of years.

Ancestry testing has been used in countless cases involving famous people, including the bodies of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs, Hitler, Jefferson and others. There are many terms specific to ancestry which you will encounter if you are considering doing a DNA testing and you might want to read more on ancestry DNA testing terminology.

Ancestry and Genealogy: Doing Offline Research

You can research your ancestry either online or offline – again two options. Among offline sources for ancestry research are registration offices holding records of births, marriages and deaths. Others include court records, parish records, electoral rolls and school records. Online sources are increasing steadily, and census records are now available online, going back to when they started in some countries (1790 in the case of the USA and 1841 for the UK). Most other records available offline are also available online.
Although semantics figure prominently in defining genealogy and semantics, and how you carry out your family research, most people don’t bother about it – even if they are confused, all they are interested in is the fun they have doing it, and the end result when they have built their family tree – ancestry or genealogy, they don’t care!