Should we call it ‘genealogy’ or ‘family history’?

Posted by admin on Aug 7, 2007

Especially in the last few decades as ancestor hunting has become a mass sport, so to say, there has been a debate inside and outside the so-called genealogical community (that is, professionals, societies, libraries and other organizations) on what we should call ourselves.

Should we stick with the traditional term “genealogist”  — which, strictly defined, is the study of bloodline ancestors — or use the broader term “family historian”?

While I’ll admit to using the terms somewhat interchangeably, there is a philosophical difference that is not insignificant.

For one example, would we want to omit adoptees from the genealogies that are compiled? True enough, these folks do not share the bloodline, but they share the experience of life with their adopted families.

And, in these days of “open” adoption as well as more reunions with birthparents, it makes sense to me that adoptees “belong” in both families — one by blood, the other by physical bonding.

No one should have to choose one or another family when he or she can be part of both.

As another example, with the introduction of DNA into genealogy, not a few lineages that previously relied on the “paper proof” of documents all of a sudden crumbled. Every so often one even hears of a story about DNA proving that someone who has been the No. 1 researcher in a family isn’t related by blood via what is delicately termed a “non-paternity event.”

These individuals sometimes are emotionally disenfranchised — even feeling like an imposter — in the families that they’ve lived in.

But using the phrase “family historian” instead puts these people back in the game, since here we are talking about the people who lived together, supported each other (and, yes, probably fought with each other, as families also do).

Of course, this whole thing can be expanded further. When I recently spent a week as an adult chaperone for a church youth mission trip, I felt the “crew” of teens that I spent the week with were like a family — even telling one of the boys that if I had a son, I’d want the kid to be like him.

Perhaps we have a lot of different “families” in a lifetime.

That’s probably taking the concept a little too far. But I think it’s fair to say that even when we use the word “genealogy” today, we’re no longer using it in that strict way of bloodline-only.

Using the phrase “family history” shows that it’s more than genes that make a family.

in Lebanon Daily News

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