Chinese aristocrats and Egyptian royalty documented their family histories many centuries ago on clay tablets, and many still exist.
European royalty and noblemen felt it essential to record family lines for succession and inheritance purposes.
When Johann Gutenberg introduced printing with a moveable type system to Western Europe in 1454, the first book printed was the Bible, in Latin.
Within 50 years, more than 10 million printed books had been produced.
The first English translation of the Bible was commissioned by King James and first published in 1611.
The first colonists arriving in British North America brought their Bibles with them. By then, the books contained designated pre-printed pages to record births, marriages and deaths.
Bibles may have been the only books a family owned at the time of their migration.
Many Bibles have been passed down through generations, and in some families, the tradition still exists today.
Before state governments mandated the collection of vital statistics, a family Bible was an officially recognized document that could be used in court to prove a person’s age, birth, marriage or death.
The information is sometimes inaccurate, though, as entries may have been made days, months or years after the event.
Bibles are a gold mine for family history buffs and if you own one, consider yourself blessed.
What’s the difference?
Genealogy simply means the scholarly study of a line of descent from its ancestral origins.
By studying a family’s line, the researcher understands the family’s historical context, documenting its traditions and history.
A genealogist usually takes a broader view of the family, tracing an entire or extended family structure or lineage, including brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, and works to place family members and ancestors into social, geographical and historical context.
This research also includes those from whom they descend and their descendants. A genealogist actively seeks many types of documentary evidence to prove and verify facts about the family and uses detailed source citations so that others may authenticate their work.
The terms “genealogy” and “family history” are similar but there are some differences.
Family history is studying a family’s history and traditions over time.
A family historian may not necessarily document every known fact about a family group and instead select specific family members or branches of the family and possibly write a family history involving them.
Sometimes, they are less concerned with proving family connections and more interested in telling the stories.
Both family historians and genealogists enjoy studying families, unearthing the past.
Many will combine both genealogy and family history research to glean as much information as possible to understand the lives of their family.
What’s your goal?
Once you have decided you want to know your family’s history or a particular branch, you need to determine what type of researcher you want to be.
Are you interested in being more of a family historian, a genealogist, or both?
What is your endgame? Do you want to create a factual book of information to pass down to your descendants?
Do you want to publish a scholarly work? Do you want to debunk or prove a connection to a particular historical figure or ethnic group?
Finally, you will need to decide how much time and effort you’ll want to devote to your project. Many people spend years, indeed lifetimes, on their research.
There are a great many reasons to research your family history. First, the more you know about your family history, the more you know about yourself.
We all want to be remembered after we’re gone. It is said that no one truly dies until their name is spoken for the last time.
You will be not be forgotten if you create a family book to pass down! Through research, it can be a thrill to find and connect with cousins and other extended family members.
Often, these cousins have photos and memorabilia they will share.
Researching family can help create a sense of belonging so that a person can understand their place in the family.
The term “family traditions” has multiple meanings. Family traditions can refer to family stories that are passed on from one family member to another, which can also be termed “family legends.”
People have found beautiful items and stories to pass down in documenting fam-
ily traditions. Some have created historical family recipe books; others use their computer skills to create family books complete with photos and stories told to them by relatives. Some write up the histories of the quilts their ancestors made and passed down.
The possibilities are endless.
Other areas of genealogical interest are ethnic origins, documenting medical history, locating heirs, documentation of ownership of property, performing background research, and joining heritage or lineage societies. Prominent societies are Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Mayflower Society, and Colonial Dames.
Others hope to locate birth parents, pursue paternity or maternity claims, and conduct historical or social research. As stated in previous articles, genealogy research is often combined with DNA testing, taking family research to another level.
Before Getting Started
The first rule of genealogy research is to start with yourself and work backward, making sure each fact is accurate.
We will delve more deeply into the research how-tos in upcoming articles.
Meanwhile, look around your homes or connect with relatives to see if you can find family Bibles that help connect your generation to those who’ve passed.
Finally, talk to your family members. You may be surprised at the stories they want to tell. If they allow it, record them.
Next time we’ll explore more on how to get started researching your family history.
Until then, Kinseekers meets from 1-3 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at Christ Lutheran Church, 481 Snead Dr. in Fairfield Glade.
Also, visit the Cumberland County Archives and Family Heritage Center at 95 E. First St., Crossville, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, for access to Ancestry.com and resources for solving your family history mysteries.