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What Do Genealogists Do?


Genealogists and genealogy have greatly changed the what and the how of what we do, however the narrative of what we do has remained: Genealogists research kinship and create timelines of events to discover a family’s history of who, when, what and why. We begin with the evidence you give us to research and work toward what you want to discover and uncover about your family lineage.

Building a family history comes from an investigative, analytical approach of evidence that is researched, questioned, researched again, and, if found to be accurate, documented. We all love the stories and family lore passed down from generation to generation, but are they accurate stories? Is there evidence to show your ancestor died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918? Were there disasters during the lives of your ancestors? Were there wars? Why did the family move?

As I work on a family lineage, I ask myself some basic questions about each family member: When was he born? How long did he live? What was happening in the country during the time he lived? How old was he when he married ? What order of birth was he? What was his trade? How many occupations did he have? How many wives did he have? Was he in the military? Was he wounded in service? Did he travel? Where to?

Genealogists also learn the history of where and how records are kept. Thanks to historical societies, federal, state and county archives, libraries, universities and the sharing of genealogical resources among genealogists worldwide, the genealogist and family researcher now has many options in the search for the umbilical evidence of family through lineage research. For more information about the resources available to research your family history, see my blog post dated July 29, 2014.

A genealogist is also an historian – a family historian – who places people in historical and social context. Through the use of original or derivative sources and primary or secondary information – i.e., evidence – either direct or indirect (evidence that is combined with other evidence to prove individual ancestors and or family relationships), you are ready to discover more than the bare bones of your ancestors.

And last, but never least, use source citations and know the value of the source; you will be well served to use the genealogical proof standard that we all hear so much about. Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy, and so we check our work to be sure it adheres to this standard. See http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html for the full definition and understanding of this important concept.

Then return to discovering and writing about your family lineage. For me, it’s been the discovery of many different types of people and of how I came to be in this world. My religious and cultural heritage – of money and entrepreneurs, of farmers and farming communities, have been proved through the variety of resources genealogists work with – from Google books that tell me of the farmers who tried living a cooperative farming lifestyle in Illinois to the entrepreneurs, who lived from one enterprise to the next, owing a hotel, bowling alley, garage – to birth and death records. Family history as verifiable storyline is complicated, more complicated than the places and the dates and the time period we all look for in our study and research of family. I have also discovered the richness of life through knowledge and understanding of kin and clan and have seen changes in a family tree through the cycles of pattern and timing. It is a rich landscape indeed.


Author: Laurene Cross
Laurene Cross is a genealogist and family historian who writes stories about your ancestry and cultural heritage. Owner of Find My Family Stories and 4Descendants – Lineage Research

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