The name of this StackExchange site is 'Genealogy and Family History". That is two things instead of one. Why? What is the difference between those two things.

I want to know, because the definitions we hold both shape, and are shaped by, the questions we choose to investigate and the practices we adopt.

  • 4
    I down voted. I'm not crazy about this question. Definitions abound. Shouldn't the answers to questions in this beta require the demonstration of some expertise other than the ability to use a dictionary? Even so, I took the bait and answered. Oct 15, 2012 at 19:58
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    @Tom Wetmore, Genealogy is in my dictionary (The Shorter Oxford English -- I can't afford the whole thing) but Family History isn't. What dictionary are you using?
    – user104
    Oct 15, 2012 at 20:05
  • Family--a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage; History--the study of past events, particularly in human affairs; Genealogy--the study and tracing of lines of descent. Oct 15, 2012 at 20:22
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    Oh wow! So we only allow questions that we think we can answer? The fact there is no unanimous distinction does not make the question invalid, or even uninteresting. There are some authoritative definitions (already quoted) and a majority who understand the difference even if they cannot summon the best choice of words for it. I believe it should be re-opened.
    – ACProctor
    Feb 6, 2013 at 17:51
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    @ACProctor, this was originally closed pretty well the day it was opened -- I just tested re-opening it so I could test something about closing it. It belongs on Meta if anywhere.
    – user104
    Feb 6, 2013 at 18:03

5 Answers 5


The term family history seems to have a fairly consistent meaning across stakeholders. At least in conversation, the word genealogy seems to evoke controversy--some imply it is, and is only, the study to determine biological/genetic links, while others argue the word is interchangeable with "family history."

Perhaps some references of interest.

  • The Board for Certification of Genealogists seems to recognize genealogy with the broader meaning. "Genealogy is the study of families in genetic and historical context." The definition goes on to describe what this means in terms of the family and the individual. It also recognizes the study of communities and kinships.
  • The Society of Genealogists (SOG) may recognize the terms distinctly. SOG defines genealogy as "Establishment of a Pedigree by extracting evidence, from valid sources, of how one generation is connected to the next. (In essence, this means the discipline of the construction of a valid family tree)." SOG defines family history as "A biographical study of a genealogically proven family and of the community and country in which they lived. (In essence, this means the writing of a biography of a series of related ancestors of common genealogy. Family History incorporates Genealogy)"

I have tremendous respect for both of those organizations and am willing to acknowledge that there are two meanings to the word genealogy.


Although actually defining either genealogy or family history isn't so easy, quickly explaining the difference is easy enough; genealogy is basic facts, family history is stories. A genealogy can be conveyed in a chart or diagram, conveying a family history requires more than that.

Quoting my own What is Genealogy II on the relationship between the two:

Family historians use genealogy as the backbone of family history. That does not make genealogy and family history the same thing. On the contrary, it highlights that they are different things; the backbone isn't the organism.


Genealogy is work done to discover ancestors and descendants; it is the study of biological/genetic descent.

Family history is the study of all aspects of a family's history.


Here's a very compact quote from Dr Nick Barratt on the subject:

"We use genealogy and family history as though they are one and the same thing, but of course they are not. Genealogy is a purer search for historical connectivity between generations - building a family tree or pedigree, if you like - whereas family history is a broader piece of research into their lives and activities"

This is from Your Family History magazine, March 2013, Issue 38, Page 74.

  • Great timely, expert reference!
    – GeneJ
    Mar 9, 2013 at 20:30

The answer to this question is completely dependent on who is asked the question. Some believe that they are the same and thus can be used interchangeably; others feel they are different and not interchangeable. There are many discussions all over the net concerning this subject.


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