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What is Genealogy?

Nov 18, 2007
Genealogy, generally defined, is the study of one's ancestry. However, in actuality, genealogy is much more involved and interesting than its general definition lets on.

When you begin studying genealogy, you realize just how much interesting information your family history can reveal. Genealogy can shed light on where your ancestors came from, where they lived, what they did for a living, who they married and what property they owned.

Almost everyone, whether they realize it or not, has participated in some form of genealogy activity. In grade school, did you ever make a family tree? That's genealogy! Genealogy can be as simple as making a record of your family tree from you to your great grandparents or as complex as tracing your entire lineage back to ancient times.

The history of genealogy dates back to the Old Testament of The Bible. In the very first book, the Book of Genesis, we see a family's bloodline narrated and the importance of genealogy. The New Testament would later also reflect the importance of genealogy in religion and society. Both the Books of Matthew and Luke outline the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth.

But The Bible is not the only written record that lends credence to the importance of genealogy. Throughout history we find records of disputes, murders and even wars where genealogy played a part in the story. Ties to royalty, rights to inheritances and eligibility for rulership are all tied to a person's heritage, and genealogy provides the map that illustrates who has right to what claims.

There are a number of instances throughout history in which genealogy played an important role as certain dramas unfolded before humanity. From something as significant as the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth to something as modernly-trivial as the true father of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter, genealogy has oftentimes been at the forefront as history played itself out.

Genealogy also played a large role in England's historical claim to the throne of France. King Edward III was a Norman-French descendant. When his uncle, Charles IV of France, passed away Edward tried to lay claim to the French throne.

He tried convincing the powers that be that even though his mother could not lay claim to the throne because she was a woman, she could pass on the bloodline's right to the throne, making him the rightful ruler of France. Of course, the descendants of the male side of the bloodline didn't agree and the argument eventually led to the Hundred Year's War.

England and France aren't the only countries to have disputes over who would be the rightful heir of a throne because of genealogy. Rowena's, Byzantium, Portugal, and even ancient Egypt all have histories that are rich in bloodline disputes.

Genealogy finds aren't all ancient history. Modern genealogy issues have hit the media recently. Al Sharpton's recent discovery is proof of the ironies that genealogy may uncover. Mr. Sharpton, who earlier this year stated that he might run for president in 2008, recently discovered through genealogy research that his great-grandfather was a slave owned by none other than Senator Strom Thurman's great-great-grandfather. In fact, the two may be related by blood.

Then, of course, there are the less-significant genealogy disputes that don't have nearly as much importance as some of these historical and political events, but they get enough media coverage to make them world famous. The true family tree of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter is just one instance. Perhaps this dispute over lineage wasn't historically significant, but it appears that many found it to be a topic of intense interest.

There are a number of reasons why people pursue genealogy. From something as simple as a mild interest in one's family history to something as significant as trying to find the parts of a broken family and piece them back together, the reasons for studying genealogy are numerous.

Genealogy can help a person get in touch with who they really are. You can find out who your ancestors were, what they did, where they lived, and more. By tracing your roots, you not only learn about those in your bloodline who have gone before you, but you can research and gain an understanding of these members of your family that you never had the chance to meet.

While genealogy doesn't always dig up buried treasure, it is indeed a possibility. Did you have a rich great uncle who died without any heirs? One you never knew about? If you did, genealogy could help you uncover the details that would help you claim what was rightfully yours.

There have been times throughout history when extreme circumstances split families apart. World War II, for instance, tore brother from sister and mother from child. Genealogy is a tool that can help piece broken families back together and thousands of people have done just that.

Sometimes genealogy is just plain fun. Wouldn't it be exciting to find out you were a distant cousin of a famous celebrity, or that your great-great-great-great grandfather was a king? Many times genealogy can uncover interesting and exciting facts about a person's family tree.

Genealogy, while always important, didn't experience such a widespread explosion in popularity until the advent of the Internet. Gone are the days when researching your family tree meant running from one public records facility to the next, hoping you could find missing pieces to the puzzle by mailing away for information that might never arrive.

With more and more public records being made available online, priceless genealogy information is just a mouse click away and easier than ever to create a fluid family tree. Its no wonder millions of Internet users have started tracing their family lines on the Web. What used to take years to accomplish can now be done in a matter of days or weeks.

With genealogy becoming more and more popular and advanced genealogy tools now so readily available, there really hasn't been a better time to get involved. Whether you only want to trace your family history back a few generations or you want to see just how far back you can climb up your family tree, the genealogy tools now available will make the process faster, more efficient and much more enjoyable.
About the Author
Javier Colayco is the founder of TribalJunction.com (http://www.tribaljunction.com), a site that makes it easy to create a family tree and find distant relatives. With additional features like group email, customizable user profiles and more, Tribal Junction also helps families keep in touch.
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