Genealogy is the study of family history. It involves tracing lineage and genetics as well as demonstrating pedigree and kinship. Genealogists use a variety of methods to gather and report information about family history. They scour historical records, conduct oral interviews, and use genetic analysis as well as other means of information collection. The findings are then reported as charts, in the form of narrative, or both. Presentation of information can also be in a multimedia form, including audio interviews, video, and photographs in addition to statistical information.
There are many motivations for establishing family history. Learning about one’s history is important for the creation of individual, family, and societal identity and culture. In many cultures, individual identity is much less important than the identity of the family or the tribe. In some religions, family history is a part of spiritual practice. Some organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, require members to establish their lineage. There also are times when family history has been lost due to estrangement or adoption, and in those cases, genealogical study can answer questions that could not be answered any other way.
Genealogical research is complex and multifaceted. Source quality often determines the validity of the findings. In the past, genealogy study required someone with research skills and a lot of time. Some aspects of the process have changed over time, but the starting point remains essentially the same. The process usually begins with the collection of family stories and the examination of documents such as birth certificates and photographs. The typical method is to start with the present and work backward in time through the generations. The first few generations are easy to compile, as family members from those generations are often still accessible. As the family tree and timeline grow, information becomes harder to get. This is when other means of information-gathering must be used, including genealogical software.
Advances in software development have made it possible for even the most amateur family historian to create a robust family tree. What was once done by hand on paper can now be done electronically. Genealogy software collects and compiles information about births, deaths and marriages and organizes the information into easy-to-read charts. These can include pedigree charts, register reports, and ahnentafel reports. A register report uses the register system of numbering, which uses common and Roman numerals organized by generation. Ahnentafel is a numbering system used in genealogy that lists a person’s ancestors in a fixed sequence. Many programs also allow for the inclusion of multimedia elements such as photographs.
The choice of which genealogical software to use is a personal one. One consideration in choosing genealogical software is its ability to link to a website or service that does research into family history. Software helps organize information but does not find the information. A program that works in tandem with a site that allows you to access research will save time in information transfer. Another consideration is ease of use. Some software requires knowledge of computer languages. Those without that type of knowledge may opt to choose more intuitive software.
Genealogy is an exciting field that allows virtually anyone to become an expert in their own history. A process that once was tedious and cumbersome has become accessible thanks to the free flow of information on the Web and software development.