13 ways to know you’re a genealogist

Whether you are a family historian or just someone interested in learning about their family’s heritage, there are certain things only a genealogist will understand.

You’ve been hit with the genealogy bug if…

  1. When introducing someone you say, “this is my sister’s grandmother’s father’s son.”
  2. You are more interested in what happened in 1815 than in 2015.
  3. A perfect vacation includes trips to cemeteries, archives and libraries.
  4. A family vacation is going to visit an ancestor’s hometown.
  5. Your doctor asks about your family background and you reply, “how many generations back?”
  6. Many family albums are filled with photos of ancestors.
  7. You explore unusual, non-related family names for fun, as well as your own family names.
  8. You know more about your ancestors than your oldest relatives who knew them.
  9. You thrive on finding an old family heirloom and learning about its history.
  10. If you could have any tech gadget, it would be a time machine to go back and meet your ancestors.
  11. You’ve called in sick because you woke up late after a research all-nighter .
  12. You filed your taxes in GEDCOM format.
  13. You named your kids in alphabetical order to make indexing easier.

Do you have any others to add?


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  • Janice

    May 26, 2015

    Assuming that you and your sister have the same grandfather: your great-grandfather’s son is either your grandfather or his brother, in which case he would be your grand uncle. This is how genealogists think. But if you want to explain it in a more complicated way, use #1 ;-). Besides this, a genealogist wishes their departed relative or ancestor will come to them, perhaps in a dream, with the answers they seek.

  • David Wright

    May 26, 2015

    When you talk to cousins, Uncles or Aunt you start the conversation with “Do You Know So’n’So ?”, or “Have you had any more children since I spoke to you last ?”.

  • ruth keffer

    May 26, 2015

    I think I have a touch of the genealogy gene too. Going to N.B. In a couple of weeks, and I’m sure I’ll learn more Barton history.

  • Kathleen E Newberry

    May 26, 2015

    When I see a person who is who is stuck, I ask them if they have checked All the Family History websites, and its amazing the once they don’t know.

  • Poopedi Daniel Morata

    May 27, 2015

    14. You feel uncomfortable and worried when a local surname which sounds familiar, is not in our family.

    15. When somebody is introduced to you, you ask them how they are related to somebody with a similar surname from some other place.

  • T. Intardonato

    May 28, 2015

    I have 2 additions to the “ways to know you’re a genealogist”.

    You are as thrilled to find that one of your ancestors was hung as a witch during the Salem witch trials, as you are to learn of ancestors who fought in the American Revolution or was elected as President of the United States.

    You know all the words to the song “I’m my own Grampa”, and understand how the relationships make it fit.

  • Catang

    May 29, 2015

    When you meet someone new you quickly run their surname through your mind to see if they might be connected to you somehow

  • Angie Guthrie

    May 29, 2015

    You pass any cemetery anywhere and you have to story and are if you know someone there.

  • Diane Cudo

    May 29, 2015

    You have one remaining relative in your generation, and you talk genealogy when you call each other!

  • Bonnie Lymer

    May 30, 2015

    My contribution to add:
    You are disappointed that you were given the “short form” census to complete rather than the “long form” census, and you provide more information than was requested of you, because you want to be sure your descendents can find you a century from now.

  • Maggie Wylir

    May 31, 2015

    I love meeting my ancestors descendants & the joy of finding a family who emigrated over a hundred years ago though one small photo on the net was overwhelming

  • Judy Herling

    May 31, 2015

    I liked the time machine one – – – but after meeting my ancestors, I’d go visit all the people who hand write census, court records, passenger lists, etc. and ask them to WRITE NEATER!!!! Thank you!

  • Dr. Cynthia P Tenicki

    May 31, 2015

    When someone questions you about ” the war ” and you assume
    They’re talking about the American Revolution, not WWII.

  • Eric Jelle

    June 13, 2015

    You carry an origami-like page in your wallet to share that shows the portraits and names of nearly five generations of complete ancestry!

  • Lawrence Magobotla

    July 20, 2015

    You know you are a Genealogist when a long lost relative calls you in the middle of the knight to let you know of the discovery of a relative or the birth of a new baby.

  • Derek T. Rowswell

    July 20, 2015

    i have at least 6 variations of my surname, do i assume we are all related?

  • Nora Hicks

    July 20, 2015

    How about calling a total stranger in a different state to ask if your family cemetery is on their Property!!! Or mailing a letter to someone whose address is across the road from property where you are searching for a family cemetery to find the owner of that property.
    (BTW both worked out successfully for me!)

  • Rebecca

    July 20, 2015

    You know you are a geneologist when people ask you where your family is from and you answer Kircudbrightshire, Scotland or Steinweiler, Germany and they look at you like you are crazy. “I just meant here locally.” “Oh, sorry. I thought you meant 400 years ago.” Blush.

  • Lynne Smith

    July 20, 2015

    You know when everything else that used to be important, and now is not, and your eyes keep wandering over to the computer, or when you pass a museum and are drawn like a magnet, you are hooked.

  • Paul

    July 20, 2015

    You get a vicarious delight finding mistakes that others make in their family trees.

  • Teresa Burke

    July 20, 2015

    I definitely must be bitten with the geneaology bug… for many years l really “enjoy”.. visiting cemeteries in any coumtry l happen to be in .
    On holidays or whatever. .. l am struggling with my Family tree om my father’s side… doing somewhat better on my mother’s side. . I find the entire journey totally fascinating. .

  • Harold Carruthers

    July 20, 2015

    In my opinion #12 is the best. It made me laugh then consider the possibilities. I digress.

    #20 (Leaving room for insertions) – When driving to a destination and pass through a town where you know you just had to have some ancestors. You then slow down when coming to a cemetery then you feel compelled to look in the rear view mirror hoping you’ll see something that will absolutely compel you to go back. Then that night you dream you pulled in and you find that one elusive relative headstone

  • Wayne Williams

    July 20, 2015

    Wayne Williams July 20 2015 1500 You see a name that signed the Declaration of Independence that is your family name and you try to find where you are connected.

  • Larry Schliessmann

    July 20, 2015

    I be sure to leave all the family and individual history, dates, names, etc., I know of an ancestor at Findagrave, even if I’m not sure the cemetery I select is where they were buried. I locate the most logical cemetery and use that one. At least that way they’re no longer unknown and forgotten 🙂

  • John Evans

    July 20, 2015

    That’s me, all of the above. John Evans, my MOM was a Moore, I have her family and mine to 1185, when everyone quits, I go on, I have been called tenacious because of this, to me this is fun, also is addictive. My Grandpa was a bigamist, married 2 15 yr. olds 3 months apart, one divourced him, my Grandmother, have fun.

  • sheri goodwin

    July 20, 2015

    14. Ohhhh surname Jones, would that be the New York or Arizona??

  • Patrick Rock

    July 20, 2015

    Several times, at various places (not always a family gathering), someone will tell me that they don’t understand what “second cousin once removed” means, and I will give them a detailed explanation with at least a couple of examples, and only after a couple of minutes will notice that all conversation around us has stopped, and that everyone is staring at me, sometimes in curiosity, sometimes in interest, frequently in a sort of glazed-eyed amazement that anyone could be such a complete geek. I have no shame in my hobby; I just explain, “well, you know I’m a genealogist . . .”

  • Miriam Feldman, nee Kyle

    July 20, 2015

    I found that one of my ancestors was a friend of Geo. Washington. Some others were killed by Indians. Some came over with William Penn. Some of my ancestor’s were in the Indian Revolution, the Civil War, my Dad was a Doe Boy, 2nd world war, Korea, Algeria Uprising, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. One testified a Witch trial on Long Island. He testified in favor of the accused, she was found not guilty and lived out her years on Gardener’s Island. I searched Grave yards in NY, NJ, BRISTOL, England, Barbados. MY trip to Barbados was great, met descendents of my Great grandparents, had tea and told stories. In NJ cleaned the graves of my Ancestors and discovered where ancestors were buried that no one new about. I’ve spoken to relatives all over the world that I never new. I found that a relic of a great Uncle is in a museum. I have pictures of ancestors going back to the 1700’s. But I don’t know near enough. So much to research and so little time. Yes, I believe I am a Genealogist. Pilgrims to Pioneers, that’s what my genealogy is all about.

  • Athol Geoffrey Stewart

    July 21, 2015

    “my sister’s grandmother’s father’s son” :
    is more than likely a son BY A DIFFERENT WIFE, otherwise the simpler definition of the relationship would have been used…

  • Trevor Moore

    July 21, 2015

    Referring to errors. I find some children are recorded as born years after their parents died. I have found someone who died before they were born. (Typo probably.) Seriously some dates are transcribed in English format from American style. e.g. 12th July recorded as 7th December. Trevor

  • Bruce Spafford

    July 21, 2015

    Before becoming a genealogist, the 1950s was a LONG time ago. Now that genealogy is my interest, the 1950s seems like yesterday and 100 years ago is the very recent past.

  • Richard Warner

    July 21, 2015

    When meeting a new couple for the first time you ask the wife “What’s your maiden name?
    You know more about your wife’s ancestors than she does.
    When her cousins call about genealogy she hands you the phone.
    You call your 80 year old cousins you’ve never met.

  • Harold Reast

    July 21, 2015

    This is great,most interesting comments. Thank you, I’ve learnt
    a great deal-please do this regularly.
    regards Harold Reast, Weston Super Mare UK

  • Laurie Connolly

    July 21, 2015

    My mother was the “keeper” of our family history and now she has passed. The legacy is now mine. I spent the past year learning all I could from her and sadly did not write down enough. But through my heritage website I found out so many more connections and was able to tell her things she could never imagine about our ancesters. I have even found living relatives that my mother had no idea existed and the live only a couple hours away! Yes I caught the bug from a long line of like minded women and men in my family tree! These women ancesters now dead did all the research to prove that they were daughters of the American revolution. I am grateful for their meticulous research!

  • MissJo

    July 21, 2015

    I love #8. I often tell my mother (94) about her cousins that she never knew she had, and her own ancestors that she never knew. She seems interested, but I know is skeptical that I just made it all up! The search is both a curse and a joy…and never ends! Throw in an adoption and it gets REALLY interesting!

  • Anne Carter

    July 22, 2015

    It took me 33 years to write my French family history and put it into book form. It started 1650 and finishes in 2014. I have now begun writing my mother’s side. Yes, I think I am a born genealogist. I know lots about some ancient people and they entertain me all the time.

  • Tina

    July 22, 2015

    You know you’re a genealogist when…
    – you wake up in the morning and your first thought is “Who do I need to find today?”
    – someone asks you to look into their family ‘a little bit’ and you spend weeks or months delving into everything you can find on them and it matters not one bit that they’re not your family because their journey is so fascinating
    – it’s the end of the world when one or another of your genealogy websites goes offline or crashes for a bit
    – it’s definitely the end of the world when your internet connection goes awry
    – your heart flutters with excitement when you find the Will of someone, which settles once and for all that you researched the right person and the right children
    – you spend hours googling to see if ancestors’ houses are still there, learning about the history of the towns they lived in etc etc etc.

  • Christine Nikiforovs

    July 22, 2015

    You know that you are a genealogist when you discover a cousin 5x removed or great grand uncle who died as a babe, and you feel a pang of sorrow that that little one’s life was so short. I always post a picture of an angel beside the cradle of a sleeping baby, for each discovery to show that they are remembered.

  • Dr Karl Thompson

    July 22, 2015

    You know you are a genealogist when you forget how many subscriptions you have at genealogy websites and keep forgetting to cancel the auto renewal at ancestry.com

    You know you are a genealogist when you find yourself swapping surnames and fore names with covering decades and far too wide geographical locations just to confirm whether your cousin twice removed is really your aunt or uncle or whether the mole on their right cheek is the sames one on yours, your great grand dad or your sister Lilly.

    And you know you are a genealogist when you enter a name, dob and country in an obscure search engine at 11.30 pm and the next thing you recall is waking up at 4.30 am with your nose trapped between the spacebar in your keyboard for the 7th consecutive night. Whoops!

    Dr K Thompson

  • Kevin

    July 22, 2015

    You read through history books and novels searching for family members. and consider the book trash if they are not mentioned…then you leave a negative review on Amazon.


    July 22, 2015

    #21 when you do the genealogy of people who marry into the family without being asked

  • Diane Andrews

    July 22, 2015

    After my spouse and I emigrated to Australia, I learnt that my cousins daughter was doing the family tree for her university degree in the UK “Could I have a copy ?”
    It was the first of many questions I was to ask. I loved listening to the “stories” my Mum and Grand mothers would tell me, from years gone by. I didn’t for one moment, think they were real or true. 20yrs on, and completing no’s 1-12 I have proved ALL to be true. Hard ? you bet, particularly that I’d never so much as turned on a laptop, and a stroke caused a lot of mental confusion, so instead of crosswords, I turned to Ancestry to help the brain. What an addiction !My paternal side leads me back to one of William the Conqueror’s knights, Robert Le Blount (pronounced BLUNT) a commander of the ships during the invasion of 1066, I remembered that date from my school days, Robert was my 23rd Great Grandfather. Enough ? you have to be joking. But the best bit so far, has been meeting long lost relations, here in Australia, One, which descended from my 2nd Great Grandfather’s brother, whose trail ran cold, until I found his emigration records. His great grandson died in Nambour Queensland, and as I was with my grand children there, we decided to look up the Maynard surname in the phone book, presuming that a descendant MIGHT still be there. 17 were listed, first one, BINGO. An invite to visit them found our family traits were almost exact, the sense of humour, the “like a dog with a bone” attitude, the love, and tenacity. My grandsons were in awe, and that started their generation’s interest in our family. Whilst searching through an Historical Cemetery in Port Macquarie in New South Wales, where I found a grave( belonging to another researcher’s relation, which I photographed & sent to them),and my ancestor too, but also the grave of an illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte. Not mine, but Sooooo interesting.
    So for no. 14, If you think the world is small, forget it…

  • Brenda Everson

    July 23, 2015

    I know I am hooked when I find myself thinking I haven’t got time to write much because every spare minute of mine is needed to research my tree. What a fascinating hobby it has turned out to be.

  • June Slavin

    July 23, 2015

    yes I do a lot of research for my family history, its so good to know where you came from and who your ancestors are! I stared off with my mom’s uncle who died in the 1st world war, I just took it from there, to know how we can chain link all our families together for ever, its fun learning about them, I love history, and to be able to know who these people are who are chained lined to me is so amazing.

  • Adulina M Balen

    July 23, 2015

    I wanted to leave my children a legacy of our family tree. Losing my father at an early age had led me to this point in my life. A quest to find and meet his siblings and their families. After 68 years of not making contact with my relatives except for an uncle, I have met my first cousins and some of their families this past February in the Philippines. The number of names in my family tree before going to the Philippines was at 853. Since my return and more researching, the number of names have gone up to 1165

  • Doris Ellis

    July 23, 2015

    I have bought my headstone early even though my husband and I will likely be cremated, because I wanted all my ‘info’ on the stone for my descendants to find one day in the future. 😉 On the front it has the information on me and the current husband, but on the back I even said “Married to ____ 12-6-1959 to 1-25-1978; Proud mother of (listed the 3 kids); Proud grandmother of (listed the 5 grandchildren).
    My husband just rolled his eyes when I told him I wanted to do this

  • Susan

    July 23, 2015

    The only one of four siblings to be childless, I wanted to leave some form of legacy so I began our family tree. I only knew of two great grandparents when I began but today my tree has 2300 names. Just recently, the day before my birthday, I broke down a brick wall that had annoyed me for 10 years. When that happens it’s really gratifying and makes all the hard work worth it. One piece at a time.

  • Bart

    July 23, 2015

    On my wife’s side of the family I’m happy to report that her ancestor was not hang for Witch craft. He was a sea captain and soon as he heard they were looking for him he sailed for home south of Boston. He hid out until everything blew over. I’ll give you a hint–his father was John Alden. On my side I’m trying to prove for once and for all that my tree does or doesn’t got back to a Scottish king in 992.

  • John E Herman

    July 24, 2015

    The library closes for lunch and you didn’t even notice.
    You are banned from family functions.
    You spend more time on the computer than your children or grandchildren

  • Barbara Parrish

    July 25, 2015

    You know you’re a genealogist when you still care about the family of a woman with the exact same name as your grandmother born on the exact same date in the exact same state who you thoroughly researched and posthumously adopted before you realized that that woman was not your grandmother after your aunt provided you with your grandmother’s parents and siblings names. Yes, it’s a long run-on sentence but that’s how we talk!

  • Mark Johnson

    July 25, 2015

    You find a new relative connection and excitedly tell your spouse and get a response, “Oh, that’s nice. Would you mind taking the garbage out now.”

  • Mark Moss

    July 26, 2015

    When you start looking into your great great uncles wife’s brother and sisters and who they married ( where do you stop) ?

  • Gloria Fischer (Sacks, Sax, Sachs)

    July 26, 2015

    I scrolled through all responses to read names, hoping one would be a family name.

  • Chris Longoria Gonzalez

    July 27, 2015

    You know which year federal census was destroyed by fire and it upsets you when you think about it. You also know which year birth certificates were first issued and wonder why some people couldn’t care less about the spelling of their children’s names.

  • TH

    The Hons Baronet Kevin James Parr

    July 28, 2015

    I am pehaps fortuneate as being titled from the age of King Henry V and before with the Norman takeover I am surrounded with Kings and Queens ,Generals and churchmen in the Parr family today. My great grandfather was the builder of Naval docks being a master brick mason and owing a brick factory he was a mulitimillionaire at the age of 28. Having servants and workers and a very large family nothing was left by the time I arrived on earth so I did it all myself. Baronet at forty and owner of farms and now retired in a villa in Europe with acres of garden in the true English style. I even discovered my connection to Joan of Kent and also King Louis 12 of France. Yes I just love history it is in my blood you see.

  • Arthur William Hughes

    July 28, 2015

    Now at age 83 and having done my own family tree for 3 generations forward and about 10 generations back I have found the task to be most enjoyable and a few of my grand children have followed my lead so that I know that the future family members names will be recorded
    along with mine. I am born and bred in Perth Western Australia.

  • Donna Cross

    July 28, 2015

    I’ve read all of the comments, and smiled the whole time. I wondered about #1 – “my sister’s grandmother’s father’s son”. ??? Why say “my sister’ as the same connections would be true for the one who is stating this connection. hmmm. As for when birth certificates were first issued. That depends on the state. I have a map of the US on my bulletin board which gives the year for each state. It is “State-wide Vital Registration Beginning DAtes” and I have no idea where I initially found it. Google it. Very handy.

  • Shmuel Shimshoni

    July 30, 2015

    You are certainly a genealogist when you ask “Who were you named after?”

    But I have a real problem with my deceased father’s birth certificate. The date and place of birth are OK.
    He is recorded as son of Isak but we never knew our grandfather by that name. It was always Bentzion.
    How name changes make for complications!!

    I should add that since I personally knew my great-grandmother and now know my great-grandchildren I’ve actually lived through seven generations, without the help of any genealogical organizations.

  • Marietta parisien

    September 13, 2015

    I am trying to find anything I can about my G G Grandmother
    Mara(Margaret)Patton Campbell.Married William Campbell.they came from Monaghan Ireland around 1830.lived in the Gore district until about 1840 when the went to Orillia to live.I have info on all the family but She remains a mystery.


    October 25, 2015

    My vacations are like you said!! Going thro cementeries,court houses,etc.;visiting the place where they lived.


  • lisa

    December 12, 2015

    Also use the time machine to tell my ancestors to LABEL THE PHOTOS!!

  • Barbara Wechlser

    December 12, 2015

    The fringe benefits of genealogy: getting to travel to places off the normal touristic routes and discovering the beauty of the unknown. Talking to the natives about your connection to the place and experiencing their reactions, ranging from a pre-longed stay at a coffee house to a personal sight-seeing tour and invitation to dinner.

  • Dianne Suarez

    January 27, 2016

    Yes, did the cemetery search last summer, complete with photos, and planning on doing another one this summer. I also often refer to some of our “famous” cousins whose ancestors we share. Makes for a good opener into the genealogy conversation!

  • Ingrid Frank

    January 31, 2016

    While becoming a genealogist and a family historian, I have learned that death is never the end of the story.

  • Geoffrey Tobin

    February 2, 2016

    Diane Andrews: so you’re related to James Blunt, the singer?

    As to Maynard, does that surname connect to Mainard who was Count Alan Rufus’s chamberlain? The Mainard who married Alan’s wet-nurse Orwen, lady of Sibton manor, their elder daughter and heiress being Gemma. Two Sibton charters from about 1230 name four members of the Dere family, who were nativi (low-ranked serfs). For some reason Henry V had these 2 charters copied into his own records a few years before Agincourt.

  • Geoffrey Tobin

    February 2, 2016

    You know you’re a genealogist when you reminisce about family with someone whose most recent common ancestor with you lived before 1420.

  • Bow

    August 14, 2016

    When your daughter gets engaged and you look up the name on Internet, contact the people listed and they tell u to buck off . Your daughter is no help getting beyond the mother father names. U bug the aunt for 3vyearz who u know has the “entire linage” for the groom (your future grandchild book namesake) she finally agrees to give u linage for generations back to the 1600’s. And I know grand parents names …lol .. why the secrecy

  • Batiibwe Moses Sserwadda

    February 11, 2017

    when you
    1) Name every picture you take for future identification
    2) When you want to visit every cemetery to check on your ancestors
    3) When your default website is ‘myheritage’
    Thanks for the insight I wish my comment is seen in the next century.

  • Shirley A Cook

    August 15, 2017

    when your tree actually matches most of your DNA test!!! Learning how you’re related to the person up the street. Asking someone with a name in your tree where their ancestors came from and you have to tell them before Utah!! (Or whatever state they may live in). You have good reasons for a picnic in a cemetery. You always have a camera ready for the cemeteries. – I once went through Harpswell, Maine area cemeteries and took 84 pictures of gravestones