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Genealogy is the process of studying and tracing family pedigrees. This process involves collecting the names of relatives, both living and deceased, establishing the relationships between them, and thus building up a cohesive family tree. Genealogy is sometimes also referred to as family history, although sometimes these terms are used distinctly: the former being the basic study of who is related to whom; the latter involving more "fleshing out" of the life histories of the individuals involved.

The etymology of the word, taken from the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/netdict.htm), is:-

Middle English genealogie, from Middle French, from Late Latin genealogia, from Greek, from genea race, family + -logia -logy; akin to Greek genos race Date: 14th century: an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor

In its original form, genealogy was mainly concerned with the ancestry of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. The term often overlapped with heraldry, in which the ancestry of royalty was reflected in the quarterings of their coat of arms. Many of the claimed ancestries are considered by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods or the founders of their civilization. For example, the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers traced the ancestry of several English kings back to the god Woden (the English version of the Norse god Odin). If these descents were true, Queen Elizabeth II would be a descendant of Woden, via the kings of Wessex.

As literacy spread, however, there came to be more and more written records; and the bulk of the population began to be recorded, in wills, tax records, criminal records, etc., and there were sufficient records that ordinary people could be traced.

Genealogists search written records, collect oral histories and preserve family stories to discover ancestors and living relatives. Genealogists attempt to understand not just where and when people lived but also their lifestyle, biography, and motivations.

The search for ancestors involves searching original records and published sources to establish relationships and family connections. This often requires knowledge of antique law, old political boundaries, immigration trends, and historical social conditions.

Even an unsuccessful search for ancestors leads to a better understanding of history. The search for living relatives often leads to family reunions, both of distant cousins and of disrupted families. Genealogists sometimes help reunite families separated by immigration, foster homes and adoption. The genealogist can help keep family traditions alive.

In most cultures, the name of a person includes in one way or another the family to which he or she belongs. This is called the family name, or surname. It is often also called the last name because, for most speakers of English, the family name comes after the given name (or names). However, this is not the case in all cultures.

The Mormons practise baptism for the dead, an ordinance[?] where baptism is performed on living people for and in behalf of those who have died. They believe in this manner they may assist their deceased relatives gain postmortem entrance into the church. In the last century, they engaged on a large scale program of copying all available records that would be useful for genealogy, microfilming them and constructing an index, the International Genealogical Index[?] (IGI). The IGI contains all the ancestral records that their followers had compiled. By making so many resources available (for example, copies of their microfilmed parish registers are available worldwide at their Family History Centers at a nominal cost), they have probably helped contribute to the increasing interest in genealogy over the last couple of decades.

Data sharing between genealogical researchers has grown to be a major use of the Internet. One phenomenon over the last few years has been that of large genealogy-related databases going on-line, attracting a flash crowd, and having to suspend service within days to make hurried upgrades after collapsing under the unexpected magnitude of traffic load: this happened with the Mormons' genealogy database (http://www.familysearch.org), and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's listing of war graves (http://cwgc.org.uk). In January 2002, the much-anticipated British census for 1901 went online. Within minutes it was inaccessible due to the server and network load, and it had to be taken offline. Later in the year, after upgrades had been made, it came back online.

In fiction, it is not uncommon to give a character a complicated fictional genealogy to make his or her background more interesting.

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