24 June 2013

Can't We Just Get Along? History and Genealogy Need to Join Up ...

Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic,  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I originally read the article Can't We Just Get Along? History and Genealogy Need to Join Up by Scott Phillips when it was first published in January and it was like he had sat in on some conversations that we’ve held here in Raleigh (NC).

Every time I do genealogy research, I learn some history.  Every bit of history I learn explains what people did and better helps me identify what records to look into that might have relevance.  I can’t imagine doing genealogical research without understanding history and history wouldn’t have happened without people.  They are inextricably intertwined!

That said, though many communities have joint genealogical & historical societies, many communities, including the one where I live have “separate” genealogical and historical societies.  Though we understand that historical context tells us why they were separately established, does that context still have relevance today?  With often shrinking pools of volunteers and money and a clear synergy between these topics, does it make sense to have more genealogical & historical or historical & genealogical societies than stand-alone ones?

What do you think? Is this an artificial divide whose demise should be imminent?  Or, is their greater value to reinforcing the differences between the two disciplines?

copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
Want to learn more about interacting with the blog, please read Hyperlinks, Subscribing and Comments -- How to Interact with Upfront with NGS Blog posts!
NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog.
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to [email protected]. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
Follow NGS via Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter
Think your friends, colleagues, or fellow genealogy researchers would find this blog post interesting? If so, please let them know that anyone can read past UpFront with NGS posts or subscribe!

Suggestions for topics for future UpFront with NGS posts are always welcome. Please send any suggested topics to [email protected]


  1. I agree completely that Genealogy and History are intimately related. They are two sides of the same coin -- or, to use a more common analogy from Genealogy, parts of the same tree. I just made the point of the nexus between Genealogy and History in my Satruday Serendipity post this past Saturday where I state why I think Genealogy is properly seen as "the root stock" for History and so they should always be seen as cooperative studies. I wrote. . .

    "As we all know, Genealogy is at least a specialized branch of the study of History -- although I would argue that Genealogy is actually the root stock of History since back when knowledge was first transmitted through oral recitation, people were first concerned with the personal background and history of their families and tribes before they concerned themselves with learning about unrelated others. Well, if you have not already seen or heard about it, you should check out the cover story for last Sunday's Washington Post Magazine. It is a fascinating read about a man in Fairfax, Virginia whose amateur love of history has led him to amass "one of the largest and most significant private collections of African American artifacts in the country." Oh, and did I mention that the collector, Mark Mitchell, is not African American himself? If you do not get the Post, you can read the article on line here and see photos of some of the amazing items in Mr. Mitchell's collection."

  2. I only just recently talked about this with my mom -- and about how history that only focuses on kings, emperors, and battles only encompasses about a zillionth of a percent of the human experience. That's the real appeal of things like genealogy, the history of language, and (one of my mom's favorite topics) the history of cultural cuisines. It's history, and it's part of all people's lives. They say that over 100,000,000 Americans trace our ancestry back to someone who came through Ellis Island. That's history that touches everyone.

    Too many historians know the dates of battles and lists of rulers, but if you ask them, "What was it like to be a farmer in ancient Egypt? When they woke up in the morning, what did they do? What did they eat? How did they get ready? What did their kids do for a living?" they go blank. Genealogy, like language and cooking, is history for all humanity, not just those who lived in the castles and declared the wars. And what else is history but the story of all humanity? Fie on specialists in English history (for example) who can tell you everything about the mere 0.00003% of the English population with royal blood, and who can't tell you a thing about the other 99.99997% of them.

  3. Genealogical data form one piece of the foundation of history. Just as for most of my professional career I used prehistoric pottery and other physical evidence to propose recreations of early societies, so do I now use genealogical and local history records to offer recreations of other early, albeit literate, societies. Some people undertake genealogical research to learn who their forebears were. I am enlarging the already rich information of my ancestors in an attempt to place their lives into the context of their times and to better appreciate how my extended family developed. History and genealogy are interwoven and one does not exist without the other.