What does that mean?

Someone recently asked me the difference between genealogy and family history. Genealogy is the actual study of your lineage, the direct line from which you descend.  And as you collect information, it is critical that you document and “prove” as you go along. Just because your grandmother told you she was 19 when married and that their first child was born 12 months later does not make it a fact. A birth certificate, marriage license and death certificate are the common documents to collect for “proving” your family information. Your ancestors are your direct descendants – grandparents, great grandparents, etc. And family history is often thought of as the stories that make your ancestors come alive.

So for a quick reference, genealogy is the study and proving facts; ancestors are the people and family history are the stories. Also, it may sound odd, but a “collateral” ancestor, sometimes referred to as an indirect ancestor, is one not in a direct line of ascent – aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

With these as examples, we thought it might help to list the definitions of a few other words commonly used in historical research, genealogy and archival management.


Accession:  Formally documenting the receipt of a group of records or other materials physically and legally transferred to a repository.

Ancestor:  A person you descended from or who came before you; grandparent, great-grandparent, etc.

Appraisal: The process of identifying which records or materials should be offered to an archives  and the process of determining the length of time records or materials should be retained.

Archival Records: Records retained for historical purposes (non-current records).

Collateral Relative:  Those in your family who are not director ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc.), sometimes referred to as indirect ancestors such as aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Descendant:  One who comes after a specific ancestor. Your grandchildren are your descendants.

Family History:  Often thought of as the stories that make your ancestors come alive, it is a collection of the stories and the records to prove your lineage.

Genealogy:  The study of tracing your ancestors and proving the relationships; your line of descents (grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.).

Historical Context:  The specific time period and place in which a story is set.

Indirect Ancestors:  Relatives who are not your direct ancestors (parents, grandparents, etc) such as aunt, uncles and cousins. Sometimes referred to as Collateral Relatives.

Lineage: People who all descend from the same common ancestor.

Parentage: The identity of one’s birth parents, usually in terms of birth location, heritage, nationality, lineage, etc.

Pedigree:  A genealogy chart showing a person’s ancestry.

Preservation: The protection of records to maintain physical integrity while assuring quick and easy access as needed.

Processing:  Processing of records is the determination of how to collect and organize the documents of an organization.

Records:  When referring to “Archives and Records”, records refer to current documents of an organization.

Records Management:  The systematic and administrative control of documents to ensure efficiency and economy in their creation, use, handling, control, maintenance, and disposition.

Timeline: A graphic, usually linear, listing or table of major events within a specific range of years.