Conduct research into the discipline of genealogy, which is the recording and putting into systematic order the histories of families according to their lineages. While the terms genealogy and family history are often used interchangeably, the former term begins with a dead person and traces his or her descendants forward in time, while the latter begins with a living person and traces their ancestors backward in time. Genealogies are sometimes displayed graphically, as is the case with family trees, or written as narratives.
Genealogists use a variety of methods and genealogical sources to conduct their research, including oral interviews, historical records (such as immigration records from Ellis Island), obituaries, census records, naturalization records, probate records, military records, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, church records of marriages and baptisms, and genetic testing. The digitization and availability of many of these documents, as well as other vital records on the internet, has generated an explosion of interest in charting family histories, as has the ready availability of genetic testing, to determine the geographic origins of one’s family.
People become interested in researching their genealogy for a variety of reasons, including a desire to know their family’s history, the hope of uncovering a famous relative, and a sense of responsibility to future generations. While amateur genealogists tend to focus on their own ancestry or that of their spouse’s, professional genealogists may conduct genealogical research for others, publish books on the subject, or create their own research databases.