26    Oct 20115 comments

Genealogy, Family History: The difference and does it matter?

The terms genealogy and family history are often used interchangeably.

To some people, this is a  source of frustration as the difference between the two is clear. For others, there is no difference and their interchangeability is acceptable. With this in mind, we ask  whether there is a difference and if it matters.

The simplest way to explain the traditional difference between the two terms is that genealogy is a subset of family history.

Wikipedia defines genealogy as:

The study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.

Wikipedia then goes on to define family history as:

The systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family, or specific families.

In other words, genealogy has traditionally been a mere component of family history research – more specifically the component concerned with the research and recording of lineage.

Below is a good list of the subsets of family history (including genealogy) as outlined in the above-referenced Wikipedia article:



Now comes the tricky bit.

English is a living language that changes over time in line with colloquial use of words.

As the terms genealogy and family history are used ever more interchangeably it can be argued that there is no real difference between them.

What do you think? Is there a difference? Should we maintain the traditional separation or, if modern language has merged the two, should we accept that the words are interchangeable?

We really want to know what you think about the differences between family history and genealogy. We look forward to reading your opinions in the comments below

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Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. If it were in my power to stop typos on websites, I might take on this more meaty subject. Yes, there's a difference and it ought to be preserved. Do we have the power? I doubt it. I guess I would rather people would be interested enough to research and maintain their genealogy than worry about the meaning of the words.
  2. i'd treat them the same!
  3. Genealogy records usually cover key facts about the past generations of many families (historical for sure) but also records current key facts about interrelated family members (almost like family news). Family history seems to address broader set of facts about one family over a given time frame. When I pick up a family history I expect a narrative primarily. When I pickup a genealogy I expect charts and generational reports with limited narrative. Those who combine documented family trees with flowing narratives usually have found a way tell the stories of many family members in their trees. These are clearly more interesting to read as they are more difficult to compose.
    So I find the two terms to be like different lenses to look at one's family. Those who can see clearly with both eyes will be much richer for their insight and much more appreciated by future generations who read their handiwork.
  4. Well put, Terry!! I agree with you!
  5. I don't mind either way. I accept the difference but I find the newer people to our community are using the terms interchangeably which is also OK.

    I would hate to see us alienate potential new community members by being too focused on semantics.

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