Sunday, September 26, 2010
Where does genealogy end and history begin?
What exactly is genealogy? Sometimes we take our research so far that I'm not sure when it leaves genealogy and becomes history.
I've been trying to work through in my mind the difference between genealogy and history. Add to that the concept of a reasonably exhaustive search and I get a little confused.
In my mind, genealogy is mostly about people, dates and building family relationships. History is a broader category of events that happen to society as a whole whether local, statewide or national.
Is a reasonably exhaustive search restricted to those items that relate to dates and family relationships? When a genealogist reads a detailed journal about an ancestor that adds "meat to the bones" does that go beyond genealogy and embark on history?
To help me think through this I decided to look up the definition of genealogy.
Dictionary.com has this definition:
–noun, plural -gies.
1. a record or account of the ancestry and descent of a person, family, group, etc.
2. the study of family ancestries and histories.
3. descent from an original form or progenitor; lineage; ancestry.
Next I checked out the definition of history:
–noun, plural -ries.
1. the branch of knowledge dealing with past events.
2. a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; chronicle: a history of France; a Medical history of the patient.
3. the aggregate of past events.
4. the record of past events and times, esp. in connection with the human race.
5. a past notable for its important, unusual, or interesting events: a ship with a history.
6. acts, ideas, or events that will or can shape the course of the future; immediate but significant happenings: Firsthand observers of our space program see history in the making.
7. a systematic account of any set of natural phenomena without particular reference to time: a history of the American eagle.
8. a drama representing historical events: Shakespeare's comedies, histories, and tragedies.
The definition of genealogy seems very specifically about tracing ancestry. But it doesn't define for me exactly what items are considered essential for genealogy. The definitions of history are broader and relate more broadly to people as a whole group. However, genealogy would appear to be a subset of definition #4 above.
As genealogists, sometimes we do very extensive research so much so that we can write biographical summaries of our ancestors that could be considered history. Where is the line between the two?
Am I a genealogist when I connect the dots between my ancestors, a local historian when I research in-depth the life of one ancestor, or an historian when I look at the events that impacted the lives of generations of my ancestors?
Someone please tell me if I am a genealogist, local historian, historian or all three! How do you separate genealogy and history? And what do you consider yourself?
Posted by Marian Pierre-Louis at 1:33 PM