Genealogy is the study and tracing of family origins and history. In its original form, genealogy was mainly concerned with tracing royal, clerical or aristocratic lines, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to power and wealth.
Often genealogy is referred to as family history, although these terms may be used distinctly. Genealogy is the basic study of who is related to whom, only concerned with tracing unified lineages; Family history relies more on the research of the lives and personal histories of the involved individuals, the study of multiple generations of people who appear to be related. The study of family history involves "putting flesh on the skeleton" that is produced by genealogy - involving the study of the historical circumstances and geographical situation in which ancestors lived.
Genealogy was a very important science in the past, because family connections between nobility were crucial to passing down of titles. Detailed genealogical records demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to titles and power were a necessity for the rulers and nobles. But many of the claimed ancestries are considered by modern researchers to be fabrications, especially the claims of emperors and kings who traced their ancestry to gods, biblical characters or the founders of their civilization.
Today, genealogy became a popular hobby, and with the help of the Internet, genealogy or family history is much easier to research than at any other time in history. 50 years ago, one would have had to spend many years tracking down their family roots. But now the job is much easier as genealogy is one of the most popular topics on the World Wide Web.
The huge advancements in DNA analysis opened new doors for genealogy researchers. DNA contains information that has been passed down relatively unchanged from our earliest ancestors. A genealogical DNA test allows for individuals to estimate the probability that they are related with a person.
Genetic methods are being used since a long time to trace human migratory patterns and to determine ethnic origin. Today the affordability of genetic analysis has opened new doors in the field of genealogy letting anyone interested in these field access vast amounts of data with hard evidence of a connection to another person or family branch.
Records taken in the past by governments, churches, organizations or individuals provide sufficient data to follow a family using the paper trail they left behind, as all major events in a person's life were usually documented with a license, permit or report.
Data sharing among genealogical researchers, the use of specialized genealogy software that can export information about persons and their relationships in GEDCOM format, so it can be shared with other genealogists on the Internet, facilitated the creation of large online searchable databases. There are thousands of genealogical societies worldwide, most having a unique area of focus such as a particular ethnicity, geographic area, or descendency from participants in a given historical event.
A survey published in American Demographics magazine in 1995 reported that some 113 million adults in the US were at least somewhat interested in family history, proving that genealogy is one of America's most popular hobbies!