Difference between Genealogy, Family HIstory and Ancestry

The Difference Between Genealogy, Family History, and Ancestry

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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.

Genealogy is about collecting and verifying the data of your ancestors or family members who have gone before you. It is 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 into.

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

Genealogy Is About Finding Your Ancestors

Genealogy is the process of seeking to find your ancestors. Often those who 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 of finding out about your ancestors. It is about collecting the data to verify that this person is your relative as you find out about their names, dates, and places.

Here are the basics Genealogist 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 a middle name, this is very good 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 genealogists try to find at least the year or approximate year. Some countries did not keep very good records for birthdates, or the records have gotten lost.
  • Place – Place where they were born. This will help you ensure you have the correct records and relatives. 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, while 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 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 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, you can visit their grave. You may often 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 when they are doing their genealogy research. So genealogy is collecting the data and information to verify that your ancestors are related to you.

Family History Is About Learning about Your Ancestors

Family History is very similar to genealogy, but it takes genealogical research 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.

With Family History, you discover who your ancestors are, and they are no longer dates, times, and places, but you now understand a bit about their stories, lives, and who they are.

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 by 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 searched 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 as FamilySearch or Ancestry. You may find others who have done much 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 for other things, it is 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 a saying that says, “you can pick your friends, but not your family.” That is true as an ancestor is someone you are related to or descended from. Those people we are related to, either by birth or adoption, are considered our ancestry.

Webster’s 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 America in the 1880s from southern Germany.”

Ancestry is about who you are related to. The grandfather came from England in 1850, and the grandmother lived in Stockholm. Sweden or the great-grandfather that lived in the US State of Ohio.

Ancestry is also 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 has some different roles. Genealogy is about the dates, times, and places where your ancestors lived. Family history is about finding out about their lives and stories. Ancestry is those people you are related to.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is genealogy?

Genealogy is the process of collecting and verifying data about your ancestors or family members to establish their familial relationships.

2. What is family history?

Family history involves learning about your ancestors’ lives, stories, and the context in which they lived, providing a deeper understanding of your family’s past.

3. What is ancestry?

Ancestry refers to the people you are biologically related to, your blood relatives. It can also include a family you are adopted into.

4. Are genealogy and family history the same thing?

No, they are not. Genealogy primarily focuses on establishing family connections and collecting data, while family history delves deeper into the stories and experiences of your ancestors.

5. Can you have genealogy without family history?

Yes, genealogy can exist without delving into the stories and experiences of your ancestors. It may involve simply creating a family tree based on verifiable data.

6. Can you have family history without genealogy?

Family history is often intertwined with genealogy, as it usually involves researching and verifying family connections. However, you can explore family stories and history without creating a formal family tree.

7. How does ancestry differ from genealogy and family history?

Ancestry specifically refers to your biological lineage or blood relations. It may or may not involve detailed research into family history or genealogical records.

8. What are some common research methods in genealogy?

Common genealogical research methods include searching birth, marriage, and death records, census data, wills, military records, and DNA testing to establish familial connections.

9. What are some common research methods in family history?

In family history research, you may explore oral histories, letters, diaries, photographs, and historical records to gain insights into the lives and experiences of your ancestors.

10. How can I get started with genealogy, family history, and ancestry research?

Begin by collecting information from your relatives, organizing it into a family tree (genealogy), and then digging deeper into their stories and historical context (family history). For ancestry, consider DNA testing to learn more about your genetic heritage.

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 at-home DNA testing, people wanting to travel with meaning, and a new perspective on life. Ancestry travels helps you feel a connection with the place you are traveling to 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?

Some traits will 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
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2 responses to “The Difference Between Genealogy, Family History, and Ancestry”

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