Genealogists help find, organize and document your family history. In general, genealogy is the study of families as they change through time. This field involves research into records generated by individuals, communities, and societies from all over the world that pertain to those people’s lives. A genealogist may also support you in interpreting the material and recording it for future generations.
The Background Information
Genealogy is considered to be both a science and an art. The genealogist approaches his research by knowing the person’s name, occupation, marriage date, children’s names, death date, place of burial, etc. The genealogist then searches the records to find the family in question. These are organized into a pedigree chart, which is a family tree.
The Source of Information
The genealogist’s primary source of information is usually through word-of-mouth or by correspondence with older family members. The latter often possess more knowledge about their ancestors than what is recorded in the official records. They also use whatever written records exist, such as church registers, family Bibles, wills, and deeds. As new information is found, it can be added to the original record or pedigree chart; therefore, these charts are continuously expanding.
A genealogist may also help you find proof for some of your claims or may be able to provide full documentation. A genealogist may first study the family’s background, lineages, and history. The next step is researching the actual documents available to prove relationships between people in some period. It can also include creating pedigrees of specific individuals that are linked into particular lines of descent.
The Research Process
A family genealogist will work on researching the ancestry of one specific family line. This usually involves creating pedigrees documenting where each person fits in the lineage and including supporting documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, or death certificates. This type of genealogical work is available for a fee during a consultation with a professional genealogist.
A professional genealogist should also assist you in interpreting what they have found during their research into your family’s history. A professional genealogist may help you understand where your ancestors came from, what type of lifestyle they lived, and realize why certain things happened in your family history.
A genealogist can also help you with your family history by adding information as it is found. They may be contacted as new records are discovered, and they will update your pedigree chart regularly to include the newly discovered material. This chart is only used for your family-it is not released to anyone else.
Genealogists must be meticulous researchers and should always be devoted to their work. Anyone can call themselves a genealogist; therefore, avoid hiring a genealogist until you have checked their credentials. The best way to find an experienced professional is through membership in the Association of Professional Genealogists (A.P.G.). If there is no A.P.G. chapter near you, check with the Board of Certification for Genealogists (B.C.G.).