Monday, March 29, 2010


James Tanner in his blog Genealogy's Star has written an interesting (for me) blog post where he is trying to come up with a definition of genealogy  that moves genealogy from its present unstructured state to a more focused and practical discipline. Such a debate I feel is due. Mind you historians have been arguing a definition of history for centuries now, and usually end up agreeing to disagree.

I consider myself a historian and researcher first, and a beginning genealogist second. As such I come at a definition from different angles than James.

James states that “Neither is genealogy genealogy without history and neither is history history without genealogy.” There we agree. He also states: ”the study of the basic underlying structure of all societies no matter at what scale.” Here I am inclined to nitpick a bit. Are we talking about the Gaelic speaking highland Scottish society where families were fluid but the clan structure constant?  Is the clan then the family? Perhaps it is and can be called an extended family. I would suspect though than the concept of the extended family in this context would drive genealogists wild as many people would not easily fit on a family tree. The only group I am aware of so far with the concept of a “kissing cousin”. I have two “kissing cousins” myself who are considered family but not blood relations. Wait until genealogists 30 to 50 years down the road try and fit them into my family tree!

I tend to view the great events of history as influencing the family, and not the other way around.  Also, a definition of family over history is fluid. It changes over time as social, economic, political, and geographic influences come to bear.

Genealogy should not be simply collecting names. These are people. They can tell you something about their times.

Genealogists and historians use much the same sources. True, but they view those sources from different perspectives.

From where I sit genealogists do seem to be moving towards making genealogy a discipline. The starting point has begun with professionalizing the discipline through education. What I am waiting for now is the first great thinker to produce a book that weaves genealogy and history together.

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