The Difference Between Genealogy, Family History, and Ancestry

Difference between Genealogy, Family HIstory and Ancestry

When you are first starting out to find information about your ancestors you may get confused by some of the terms that are used as genealogy, family history, and ancestry. Many genealogists will use these words interchangeably.

Family temple
Family temple

Genealogy is about collecting and verifying the data of your ancestors or family members who have gone before you. It is the process of collecting the data and information to verify that your ancestors are related to you. Family history is about learning about your ancestors and their lives and stories. Ancestry is who you are related to. Ancestry refers to blood relations but can also refer to a family you are adopted in to.

Here are some things to remember about each of these terms and how each of them can help you to find your ancestors.

Genealogy – Finding Your Ancestors

Genealogy is the process of seeking to find your ancestors. Many times those that do genealogy as a hobby or a profession are called “genealogists.”

Genealogy is about tracing your descendants through doing research. By doing this research you collect data about them such as names, dates and places.

The Oxford dictionary defines genealogy as:

“A line of descent traced continually from an ancestor.”

Oxford Dictionary

Genealogy then is the process to find out about your ancestors. It is about collecting the data to verify that this person is actually your relative as you find out about their names, dates, and places.

For many here are the basics they want to find out about their ancestors:

  • Name – The full name of your ancestor. This usually includes at least the first and last name or maiden and married name for women. Also if you have the middle name this is very good to have as it will help you with your search.
  • Birth Date – The date your ancestor was born. If you do not have the exact date most genealogist try to find at least the year or approximate year. Some countries did not keep very good records for the birthdates or the records have gotten lost.
  • Place – Place where they were born. This will help you to make sure you have the correct records and correct relative. This is especially important if your ancestor has a common name as James Johnston.
  • Christening date – Some Christian countries will have records of when your ancestor was christened. This is also another date many genealogists try to verify.
  • Marriage date – if your ancestor was married, you want to find their marriage date. Some marriage records will have the exact date, others may not.
  • Spouse – You will want to verify to make sure you have the correct spouse.
  • Marriage place – Also to find out the location of where your ancestors were married. Many of these same records may also list out the name of their father and mothers.
  • Children – Any children they may have and in particular what child you are related to.
  • Death – The date your ancestor died.
  • Place of death – Where they died. Some records may also tell you how their died or what they died from.
  • Burial place – Not everyone was buried in the same place they died. If you know where they are buried, if you ever travel to the area then you can go visit their grave. Many times you may find groups of family members buried next to each other.

This is the basic information that most people doing genealogy will try to find out about when they are doing their genealogy research. So genealogy is the process of collecting the data and information to verify that your ancestors are actually related to you.

Family History – Learning about Your Ancestors

Family History is very similar to genealogy but it takes the genealogical research it a few steps further. Family history is about not only discovering the data about your ancestors such as names, dates, and places, but it is also about learning more about their lives and stories.

Here are some things you can do to find some of your family’s history:

  • Start at home – Start looking at your home. There could be records and other information in some old boxes up in the attic. In these boxes, you may also find old photos which can also tell a story about the lives of your ancestors.
  • Interview older family members – You can also interview some of the older family members in your family to find out more about their lives and their memories.
  • Go online – Google your ancestors. Today with the online world you may be surprised with what you can find. You may find an obituary about an ancestor you did not know much about, or find some other relatives. I recently did a search and found an insurance policy from the 1790s from one of my great grandfathers. I found this all with a google search.
  • Get a DNA test – if you are really not sure where to start then consider getting a DNA test. If you want to find out more about DNA tests you can read our blog on Genealogy DNA Tests and Testing – Read This Before You Buy by clicking here.
  • Put your family history online – today there are many online programs such a FamilySearch or Ancestry. You may find others who have done a lot of the research for you that you can link into. Many families not only share their family tree online but may also have stories and other things as photos and documents. Consider getting a free account with Family Search. You learn more about FamilySearch by reading our blog How Can I Find My Family History For Free? by clicking here.

Family history is about learning about your ancestors and their lives and stories. When you hear someone say “My Great Grandfather worked at a train crossing,” that is so much more interesting than his name was and he was born in what year, etc.

These stories make up their lives. It brings your ancestor to life for you and you in the process then begin to discover a lot more about yourself and your family. Sometimes the message is a good one and other things it is are not sure. But we love this quote about families:

“Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking.


There is the saying that says, “you can pick your friends, but not your family.” That is very true as an ancestor is someone you are related to or descended from. Simply, those people we are related to either by birth or adoption are considered our ancestry.

The webster dictionary defines the term ancestry as:

“Line of descent …..a person’s ancestors: the people who were in your family in past times.”

Webster Dictionary

For example someone will usually say “my ancestors came to American in 1880s from southern Germany.”

Ancestry is about who you are related to. The grandfather who came from England in 1850, the grandmother who lived in Stockholm. Sweden or the great grandfather that lived in the US State of Ohio. Is the great grandmother whose hips were wide so I got her hips or the blue eyes that my great grandfather had. They are the people who for better or worse have given you some traits that you may now have.

Genealogy, family history and ancestry may seem like the same things, but each of them have some different roles. Genealogy is about the dates, times, and places of where your ancestors lived. Family history is about you finding out about their lives and stories. Ancestry are those people you are related to.

Why is Ancestry Travel the New and Exciting Travel Trend?

Ancestry travel is a new and exciting way to travel as it helps you discover your family history. The ancestry travel trend has been driven in part by the at-home DNA testing, people wanting to travel with meaning, and a new perspective about life. Ancestry travels helps you feel a connection with the place you are traveling and your also ancestors.

You can discover more by reading our blog Why Ancestry Travel is The New and Exciting Travel Trend by clicking here.

What Are Some Traits You Need To Do Your Family History?

There are traits that will help you help you with your genealogical research. These 11 traits include 1) investigation, 2) research, 3) love of history, 4) love of culture and people, 5) patience, 6) attention to detail, 7) math skills, 8) problem solving, 9) being an adventurer, 10) keeper of secrets and 11) love of heritage and family.

Discover more by reading our blog Genealogy Travel – 11 Traits You Need to Do Your Family History by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Difference between Genealogy, Family HIstory and Ancestry