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NOTICE
     The administrator of this site, Al Henderson, will be "offline" for all of 2004 and, quite possibly, 2005. What this means to you is that there will not likely be any updates posted online during this time nor will I be reachable via e-mail. 
     I will, nonetheless, continue to do research and am always open to being contacted by other researchers. You can write to me at:
Al Henderson
1883 West Fraser Rd.
Quesnel, British Columbia     V2J 6J6
Canada
some  GENERALITIES of
GENEALOGY
(with, perhaps, a "smattering" of specifics)


I do readily recognise and admit to the difficulty of the task I have set before myself.
Lord, let me be equal to the task!
(*grin*)

  • What IS genealogy? (And are you sure it's not spelled "geneology"?)
  • Why would anyone want to bother?
  • What's the difference between genealogy and family history?
  • So ... how do I get started?
  • Oh, someone already did our family tree - we're descended from Royal blood and our ancestors went to England with William-The-Conqueror! (hmph!)
  • What IS genealogy, anyhow?
     

         Well, according to my l'il desk dictionary, here, genealogy is ... "1.an account or record of the descent of a person or family from one or more ancestors. 2.descent from an ancestor; lineage; pedigree."

         Hey! That sounds good enough for me. Seriously, though, the above "definition" is what genealogy is  ... "technically". In practical terms, though, genealogy is one of those "different-things-to-different-people" kinds of term/field/hobby. To some, it is the pursuit of a long list of names of people to whom they are related in some way - whether tracing backward or forward or both. To others, it is a way of determining potential medical problems running through their family. Still others consider it to be the pursuit of an understanding of those people who came before and who led, in some way, to who & what we are, today. (This is the direction in which I tend, at least, to lean.) For a smaller - yet, no less intense, in their efforts - group of people, genealogy is simply a means to an end ... for instance, acceptance into a particular organizational or fraternal order, perhaps. And, I suppose, there might even be people who get active in this field for the pure love of a mystery and the solving of same!

         For that, truly, is what genealogy - as a hobby or pursuit - is all about. Solving mysteries! It is detective work, by anyone's standards. But we needn't make like Sam Spade and hole-up in some dingy little back-room office, plying our trade under the cover of night and by the light of a streetlamp (although some among us seem to thrive on such). With the luxuries afforded us by such modern technologies as e-mail and on-line bulletin boards, we have access to other members of this hobby - what is, generally, one of the most friendly & co-operative of hobbies - around the World! You can track down distant (sometimes, very distant) cousins who are tracing the same families you are. You can ask the advice of some Scottish History expert, living in Edinburgh - or Hong Kong, even! You might find someone in Warsaw (where your ancestors emmigrated from) whose own ancestors lived for a time in your home province or state - and with whom you can "trade" archive searches.

         Genealogy is "many things to many people" ... but, for an ever-increasing number of people throughout the world (I understand that it's the number one hobby in North America!), genealogy is - above all else - FUN!

         And - yes - I am sure that it is spelled "genealogy" ... although it is often pronounced as "geneology".


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    So, why would anyone even want to bother with it?!
     

         I think we touched, a little, on some of the reasons in dealing with the previous question. Certainly, one of the forces behind the popularity of family history research, today, is the possibility of detecting a genetic predisposition to certain diseases & ailments in one's family - like they say, "Forewarned is forearmed". Admittedly, some of the credited "causes of death" recorded a hundred years or more ago can be rather obtuse or downright suspect, at best ... still, many people have identified traits running through their families which can, then, be watched-for further down the line, let's say.

         Many people wish to attain membership in such organizations as the Daughters of the American Revolution or, perhaps, the United Empire Loyalists. Well, being hereditary organizations, you cannot just send in your twenty bucks and get a pin in the mail ... you must, first, prove descent from an original "Revolutionist" or "Loyalist", respectively.

         Sometimes, the "spark" is a family legend that claims a relationship to Royalty or some other famous person. These legends are often passed down from generation to generation with greater reverence than the family silverware (*grin*) ... until, finally, someone decides to do some real research and either prove or disprove it. (Be aware, though - sometimes no amount of "research" in "dusty old archives" will convince Aunt Millie that it's not true!)

         Still other people, myself included, believe that the more we understand our ancestors, the more we can understand ourselves. Admittedly, the further back in time we go, the more our "understanding" depends upon conjecture ... but, often, we can find enough references - in surviving letters, relatives' memories and newpaper clippings - to people of the last several generations, that we can get a fairly accurate picture of the kind of people they were. We all have certain traits which are attributable to the genetics that have passed along the many "lines" which lead through the ages to us. We also have certain traits which have no basis in genetics ... and it is more than a little "revealing" when we come upon some reference to a gr-gr-grandfather or gr-gr-grandmother which makes us say to ourselves, "That sounds just like me!".

         Beyond all that ... even if one of the above served as the impetus to start researching their ancestry, most folks, after a time, find that this hobby is just downright FASCINATING - not to mention extremely addictive!


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    What's the difference between genealogy and family history?
     

         Oh, I think I might be over-simplifying it, perhaps ... but, as I see it, Genealogy is simply tracing out one's "pedigree" - the unbroken line backward, from parent to parent. Family History, on the other hand, suggests knowing/learning all you can about those people who make up your genealogy - what they did, where they lived, who they knew & interacted with, how they survived, what sorts of hardships & pleasures made up their lives, what their family lives were like ... again, just whatever you can.
         Um ... I'm going to leave it at that, just to prove that I can write a (fairly) short answer.


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    Okay - so how do I get started?
     

         Well, the place to start is ... with yourself. Write down your name, date & place of birth - basically, all the information which you hope, eventually, to have about your ancestors. There are three reasons for this ... firstly, it will help you to set some parameters and know just what you're looking for; secondly, although speculative thought can play a big part in solving "mysteries" later on, your research must follow a logical order and, for now, you need only focus on genealogy's foremost rule: Work from the known to the unknown! The third reason is one which many researchers seem to gloss over but really shouldn't ... the work you produce - the result of all your research - should be something which will be passed down from generation to generation, a chronicle of the lives of your family members. Doesn't that include you? You will soon learn how much challenge there is in piecing together the elements of another person's life - especially once they're dead. Now, if you really wish to be thought well of by your descendants, don't leave it to them to try to piece together your life! And, if you don't start now, you will have a heck of a time trying to pull back from your researcher, later on, to do it.

         Next, do all the same things you did for your own life for those of your parents ... and your siblings, if this is your interest. (Or have them write their own "bio's".) Keep working back, in this manner, talking to all living relatives you can find! Granted, no one's word can be taken as "gospel" in every situation ... but you will, at least, have "something to go on".

         Once you've exhausted "living resources" (well, okay - not totally exhausted them ... if you keep going back to talk, they will keep "remembering" new things), it is then time to start delving into ...
    BUM-ba-da-DUM! ... The ARCHIVES. (heh, heh)

         And it is at this point that I will "pass the buck", since there are better sources than me for an education in family history research. Go to your local Library and read what you can find. Visit your local (if you have one) Family History Centre. These are research centres (of varying sizes) operated by The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - often referred to as LDS or Mormons - and are listed in your telephone white pages under Church of (etc.). Actually, though, before you do any of that - since you're sitting in front of your computer, right now, anyhow - go to my favourite jumping-off spot on the WWWW ("Whole World Wide Web" - heh, heh) ... Cyndi's List. Cyndi Howells maintains the most incredible list of Web sites - all organized into subject classifications and sub-subject classifications and ... well, you get the picture. These are all "clickable links" - just scan down the list to something you'd like to check out and click it! Oh - one other spot that you really ought to check out is RootsWeb's Guide To Tracing Family Trees. Here, you will find a series of tutorials covering a wide range of research topics suitable for beginning & experienced genealogists, alike.

         Before leaving this subject, though, I will mention two other things you really should do. 1) Post your interests on the various "Bulletin Boards", on-line. The two that I will recommend you post to, first, are The Roots Surname List and GenForum. These are two which have an incredible number of people reading their listings. You will, undoubtedly, also come across sites catering to more "specific" areas of interest, at which you can post queries ... but start with these two. 2) Subscribe to a mail-list or two (or three?). Rather than try to explain mail-lists, I will simply refer you back to Cyndi's List - she has links to lots of them! However, before you post to any bulletin boards or join any mail-lists, do, please, check out these links - Tips For Posting An Effective Query and Netiquette  . They will give you a good bit of knowledge on how to make effective postings and on the etiquette of mail-lists.


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    Yeah, well - my Family Tree has already been done. We're of Royal blood ... and
    our ancestors came over to England with William The Conqueror!
     

         Uh-huh. First of all, refer back to the question (and answer) about why anyone would do this ... sooner or later, someone has to get to work and either prove or disprove that "family legend". If someone actually did prepare a history of your family, look for source citations. If they have not listed the sources of all their information, then all you really have are a bunch of (good or bad) clues.

         Consider, too, the fact that, in the last century, it was quite fashionable to have a "Family History" which "proved" one's descent from - or, at least, relation to - some Royal or otherwise famous person. Many - if not most - of these so-called family histories are, at best, a hybrid of Truth and "Wishful Fiction" ... and it will be up to you (or someone else) to sort out what is which.

         And, last of all, if your "Family History" is titled something like "World Book of [put your family name here]" ... well, I truly am sorry - but you have become one of the countless thousands of people who have fallen prey to that company. They make up some generic "history" for that surname, dig up some coat of arms which may or may not have been presented, at one time, to someone with that surname (but which you, in all likelihood, have absolutely no right to use) and, then, flesh the book out with a bunch of names & addresses culled from old telephone directories and mailing lists (a far more up-to-date version you can get right on the Internet, here).
         I really hope to not offend anyone with all that - at least, no one who has purchased such a book - but the fact remains that, in one year (or two or ... ?) of semi-serious research, you could discover more real info' about YOUR family than could ever fit into one of those "World Book of ... " things!

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         Okay. Well, I guess that's quite enough "talk" for now. It's time for you to check out the rest of our site, here ... or, if you're all done, click on one of the links, above, and GET STARTED!!!


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