Start My Family Tree Welcome to Geni, home of the world's largest family tree.
Join Geni to explore your genealogy and family history in the World's Largest Family Tree.

Project Tags

What IS Genealogy ?

By Roland Oscar Araneta

Genealogy is one of mankind's oldest fascinations. It has roots in almost every religion in the world. In the Bible, both the old and new testaments have genealogical information enumerated in detail, albeit in the patrilineal (father's) descent. The classical Greek authors also elaborated on the ancestry of heroes and gods, and these later also became the foundation of the claims of Roman emperors to be descended from divinity. Genealogy comes from the Greek ãåíåá, genea, which means "family"; and ëüãïò, logos, which means "knowledge". In other words, it is the study of one's family, one's family history to be precise. Before it even became a formal branch of history people already kept records of their family trees, which is really the most basic of genealogical work. From family trees people progressed to tracing their pedigrees, which is a chart showing the direct lineal ascent of a child to his parents, his parents' parents, and so on. Much of those whose ancestry were traced and documented, however, were from the ruling class. It was only later in the modern world when even the lowliest of social class started to document their family history. Genealogy also often goes hand-in-hand with Heraldry, or the study of coats-of-arms and family shields and insignias. This is because in the Middle Ages, most of those who were granted coats-of-arms were of course from the nobility, and as such in keeping records of arms grants family trees were also recorded, as well. Heraldry, though ultimately as very essential part of genealogical research, is in its own right a discipline. As already mentioned, genealogy in its original form, genealogy was mainly concerned with the ancestry of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. Many of these claimed ancestries are, of course, considered now by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods, to biblical characters, or the founders of their civilization. However, records of persons who were neither royalty nor nobility began to be taken by governments in order to keep track of their citizens (In most of Europe, for example, this started to take place in the 16th century). As more of the population began to be recorded, there were sufficient records to follow a family using the paper trail they left behind. As each person lived his or her life, major events were usually documented with a license, permit or report that was stored at a local, regional or national office or archive. Genealogists locate these records, wherever they are stored, and extract information to discover family relationships and recreate timelines of persons' lives. In China and other Asian countries, genealogy books are used to record family members' names, occupations, etc. Some books are kept for hundreds or even thousands of years. In India, in the eastern state of Bihar, there is a written tradition of genealogical records among Maithil Brahmins and Karna Kayasthas called as "Panjis", dating back to 12th century AD. These records are still consulted during marriages.

It was only in the seventies when the study of family histories started to get another fresh wave of interest from the common folks.  The release of the television adaptation of Alex Hailey's novel, Roots:  The Saga of An American Family, generated interest among people worldwide.  In his book, Hailey chronicles the lives of his black ancestors, ending with his trip to Africa and meeting with the long-lost tribe of his slave forebear.  Although much of the vivid details in the book, are, obviously imagined, Alex Hailey later said that in order for him to write those details he had to experience much of those he believed his ancestors experienced.  As an example, for him to write as accurately as possible the feelings his ancestor Kunta Kinte had when he was chained to a filthy section of a slave boat going to America, Hailey had himself chained in a moving boat and ate, urinated, and defecated in the same area as he imagine his ancestor must have done in the past, thus creating a vivid, realistic feel in the narration of his forebear's suffering.
 Since then, more and more professional genealogical institutions have sprouted offering genealogical services to the common man.  The study of family history, in its entirety, has a lot of components, a  brief discussion of each will be made here.
Family trees may be matrilineal, or traced through the female line, which was the common practice in ancient times.  It must be remembered that in primitive times people regarded the female as divine, and the right to rule was derived from the female line.  It may also be patrilineal, or traced through the male line.  Modern day researches generally do bi-lineal tracing, which would include both the male and female lines.
First Name and Surname Histories
As a rule of thumb, most experts on family history would advise anyone interested in genealogy to always begin with what one already has:  his first and last names.  In many instances, people will already get a colorful history of his family just by working on his given and last names.  Often, the first or middle names are derived from a relative or direct ancestor.  For instance, in my maternal grandmother's family, it was always the practice to name the first child born after a death of an elder after the deceased.  This practice has roots to antiquities; families tend to give a newborn child the name of a recently deceased ancestor to "keep the memories of the dead loved one" 
Surnames developed in an almost predictive way:  the first name is usually appellated with a description of the place, origin, or characteristic of the first bearer.  Examples:  a man named Jose who lived near a coastline would be known as Jose de Acosta, of Jose from the coast.  Most often than not, this would soon be simplified to Jose Acosta; John, the son of Peter, would soon be known as John Peterson, and so on.
Most modern-day surnames are any of the following:  patronymics, that is, names that designate the bearer as "a son of" or "a descendant of" the first bearer of the surname.  In Russia, patronymics usually end with the suffix –ov:  Romanov, "son or descendant of Roman", Semyonov, "son or descendant of Semyon or Simon", and Alexandrovitch, "son of descendant of Alexander".  In Spain and other Spanish-speaking areas, patronymics usually end with –ez, such as Alvarez, "son or descendant of Alvaro", Rodriguez, "son or descendant of Rodrigo", and Martinez, "son or descendant of Martin".  Some patronymics do not end in –ez, such as Manuel and Agustin.  Other patronymics include English names like Williams and Johns; European names that end with –son or –sen such as Jansen or Peterson; and Islamic designations such as "bin" or "ibn", like Abdullah bin Saud, which means "Abdullah, son of Saud".
Another popular surname type are habitational or locational or place-names.These surnames are derived from any of the following:  their house or original hometown of the first bearer of the surname, like Martin de Aragon, indicating "Martin, from the Spanish province of Aragon"; the common landmark found in the area from which the first bearer comes from, such as Jose Montano, which might indicate that "Jose lived near or in the mountains"; the common flora in the area, such as Espina, which would indicate an abundance of thorny bushes or plants in the place where the original bearer of the name comes from; or the common fauna in the area, like Gallos, indicative of the presence of many roosters in the area. In the Basque region of Spain families took as surname the name of their house, for instance Fernando de Araneta means Fernando from the Araneta house.  
Occupational surnames are also common types of surnames, which would describe the trade or profession of the first carrier of the name.  Such names generally developed in the same way as place-names started.  Examples are Gunther Schmidt, which would mean that Gunther was originally a smith.  Spanish surnames like Pescadero ("fisherman"), Labrador ("farmer"), and Herrero ("blacksmith"), are common Spanish occupational surnames.
The fourth surname category is descriptive or characteristic of the original bearer, such as Rufus or Red, which would mean the first bearer probably had bright, red hair.  Others would include, other than colors, body structure, such as Slim; social status like King or Regis, which may indicate noble or royal birth or simply wealth, and so much more.
Other surnames have dual or even more origins.  The surname Lucero, for example, which means brilliance or bright star, may indicate the first bearer as having red, flaming hair.  It may also be occupational, as the early lamp-lighters were given the title "El Lucero".  Other surnames may also simply be common words used in day-to-day language which have evolved through time.  Many surnames in the Philippines, for example, are Spanish words or adjectives.
An important auxiliary to genealogy is Heraldry, which is the practice of designing, displaying, describing, and recording coats of arms and badges.  Historically, coats-of-arms were used to distinguish the armies of one knight against another.  Later on, these colorful banners were incorporated into family decorations and when these were already common practice, state authorities started regulating the use of arms.
Technically, a coat-of-arms is granted to a person, and not a family.  The use of arms is also legally passed only to the eldest child.  If other children wish to use it, the arms should be "differenced", or designed somewhat differently from the original.  This early on, it must be understood that the only way for one to legally bear a coat-of-arms is first to prove descent from the original grantee of the arms.
When a woman inherits the right to use the arms, and gets married to another arms bearer (or armiger, as the technical term goes), the coats-of-arms of the man and woman have to be combined, or "marshalled".  
There are many other colorful terms used in general heraldry.  Through it's almost 900 years of history, heraldic terms have developed into colorful and interesting proportions.  But the laws governing the use of arms today are not as strict as it was in the past. In the middle ages, when someone was caught using an arms that was not granted to any of his or her direct ancestor, imprisonment was the usual punishment.
Today, families who carry the same surname as that of an armigerous family indiscriminately use these arms.  Such practice is common especially in countries like the Philippines and the United States where there are no governing bodies regulating the use of arms.
Pedigree Charts
A very important component of family tree tracing, a pedigree chart shows the direct lineal descent of one person to another.  The most logical step to take in filling out a pedigree chart is to start with one's self, then with one's parents, and so on.