The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Start your genealogy journey


Genealogy fascinates much of the general public. The number of people learning more about their families and heritage through genealogy increases year to year. According to, genealogy is the second only to gardening as the most popular hobby in the United States.

People explore genealogy for many reasons, including learning about their ancestry. A rundown of the basics of genealogy can make such pursuits more enjoyable.

Genealogy and family history are subtly different Genealogy is a line of descent traced continuous­ly from an ancestor, while family history is defined as the history or narrative of a family. They are intertwine­d but not synonymous.

Vital records are key

Genealogis­ts explore vital records to obtain informatio­n about their ancestors. Vital records include documentat­ion of ancestors’ life events, including births, deaths, marriages, and more. Civil registrati­on began at different times around the world, and even across North America, so it’s often challengin­g, though entirely possible, to develop an accurate history.

Surnames may be different

Surnames were not commonplac­e until around the eleventh century in Europe, according to S.C. Perkins, who is the author of a mystery series featuring a Texas genealogis­t as the protagonis­t. Surnames fall into four general categories:

1. Place or geographic­al features (i.e., “Hill”)

2. Nicknames or appearance (“Little”)

3. Occupation (“Baker”)

4. Father’s name (“Peterson”)

Some names may not have been recorded correctly, so a person’s last name actually may be a derivative of the real name or a misspellin­g. Often immigrants changed their own surnames to make them sound more American or more native to wherever they were emigrating to.

Cities change

Discoverin­g records of ancestors can be even more challengin­g because of shifting borders or municipali­ties, which change over time. The Family Tree Factbook provides European maps from throughout history and a timeline of European border changes that can help with research.

Preserve family history

In addition to uncovering mysteries of one’s heritage, dabbling in genealogy helps to preserve family history by confirming tales and tracing ancestors’ journeys. It also may help shed light on the history of artifacts or jewelry that ancestors owned and passed down.

Connect with others

A motivator behind genealogy research is to uncover relatives. Cousins from all over the world can discover they are related and bridge the gap between them through shared genetics and history. This may be particular­ly important to those who were adopted and hope to understand more about where they came f rom for personal or health-related reasons.

Genealogy is a growing hobby that can be quite rewarding. Thanks to the internet and growing databases of civil records, it’s now easier than ever to trace family histories.

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