Are You a Genealogist or a Family Historian?

Are You a Genealogist or a Family Historian?

Are you a genealogist or a family historian? What is the right term? What is the difference? And what is the definition?

Let’s take a look a the term “genealogist” first, you’ll see that it is defined as:

– A person who studies, professes or practices genealogy. (www.yourdictionary.com)
– An expert in genealogy. A person with special knowledge or ability who performs skillfully. (https://www.vocabulary.com)

While the term “family historian” is said to be:

– A family historian is person who has the most accurate information knowledge passed down to them by one of the oldest members, a patriarch or matriarch of their particular branch of the family. (http://www.yourdictionary.com)

While I could leave it at that, I realised that everyone has their own way of approaching things, and family history, just like any activity is no different. Some go gung-ho, others take the cautious step-by-step, others like to just dip their toe in. So apart from the terms genealogist and family historian, here are some others that you may have come across:

The Bragger
The Bragger isn’t one that actually researches their family history, but they have a family member who does. The Bragger is one who grabs hold of the juicy stories (you know the criminals, the royalty, the explorers, and the heroes), and lets everyone know that they are connected to them.

The BSO (Bright Shiny Object) Researcher
The BSO Researcher is one that gets easily excited, and easily distracted. They are known to be researching one line, only to be totally distracted by a new and more interesting ancestor that they’ve just discovered. The BSO Researcher does tend to have fascinating stories on their family members.

The Cemetery Traipser
Also sometimes known as the Grave Walker, the Cemetery Traipser is likely to plan outings and holidays around cemeteries they wish to visit. They have also been known to stop randomly if they see a cemetery sign. While others find Disneyland the ultimate fun experience, for the Cemetery Traipser nothing beats a visit to the cemetery.

The Colour-Coder
The Colour-Coder is a highly organised researcher. They are the one who has everything labelled, filed, and all neatly colour-coded. They have any item findable within a few seconds (ok, maybe minutes) … but findable. This is a skill level that many historians aim for, but sadly never reach.

The Dabbler
The Dabbler is one who believes that family history can be done in a day or maybe a week. They jump on to Google or the big-name-genealogy-sites, to see what they can find. The Dabbler does find a little, but then gets stuck. But as the Dabbler was only half-interested in the first place, it was too hard, so they leave it.

The Die-Hard Family Historian
The Die-Hard Family Historian is very similar to the Hard Core Genealogist. They study not only genealogy, but history as well. And they not only collect and verify all information, but understand the need to put everything in the social and historical context of the time. So the Die-Hard Family Historian goes beyond the names and dates, and beyond the records, to find out the stories and happenings of the time.

The DNA Tester
The DNA Tester’s are the new kids on the block. They are the ones who take a DNA test and expect to get their entire tree as a result – usually without having done any paper-trail research at all. The DNA Tester often doesn’t have any interest in doing any actual research themselves either (hence the easy spit/swab test instead).

The Floor-Pile Researcher
Many will relate to the Floor-Pile Researcher. The Floor-Pile researcher is one who has piles of records on the floor or alternatively on the desk, on the bookcase, or quite often on all three! Actually anywhere there is a spare space will do, they’re not fussy. And while they are great family historians, filing is not a strong point of the Floor-Pile Researcher.

The Genealogist
The Genealogist is a person who has gone waaaay beyond the ‘Dabbler’ stage, to the point of being obsessive. The Genealogist is one who likes to tell everyone of their latest finds, only to be met with blank faces and eyerolling. They are always on the hunt for ‘one more ancestor’, and they are likely to have good quality trees, complete with records to verify everything.

The Hard-Core Genealogist
This is another term for the Die-Hard Family Historian. The Hard-Core are ones that live and breathe genealogy. They usually work in the industry, or if not, they want to. The Hard-Core Genealogist can be found at nearly every genealogy conference that is on. Their bedside reading pile contains more genealogy-related titles than many libraries. And you can guarantee that when they have headphones on they’re not listening to the the latest music, but rather podcasts from The Genealogy Guys, Genealogy Gems, Extreme Genes and Genies Down Under. A trait of the Hard-Core Genealogist is that they have a desire to learn everything there is about genealogy and any associated topics, and many have been known to take online courses regularly.

The Name Collector
The Name Collector is someone who likes to add as many people to their tree as possible, no matter how remote the link is. This is usually done by copying other people’s trees (which may or may not be verified, and it really doesn’t matter if it’s not). The Name Collector loves to tell people how many thousands of people on their tree. But while the Name Collector may have thousands of names, they can’t tell you anything about any of them, as they are simply names and dates, not the stories.

The Newbie Researcher
The Newbie Researcher is a one who is just starting their family history. One who’s slowly getting the hang of the terminology, the records, the recording of info, how to find records and so on. The Newbie Researchers are ones we need to keep an eye on and guide, because their newbie experience is likely to make them either love it or leave it. The enthusiasm of The Newbie Researcher is energising, buuuuut the tendency when starting out is to follow as many lines as you can, which turns into an avalanche of information, and keeping track of it all is a challenge, and can be overwhelming.

The Night Owl
The Night Owl is known for spending every evening (and quite often into the morning) sitting in front of a computer, looking at old records. The Night Owl seems to enter into its own timezone, where 20 minutes ‘somehow’ turns into 6 hours somehow. So while the Night Owl might seem sluggish during the day, they come alive at night with the prospect of finding their elusive ancestor.

The One Goal Researcher
The One Goal Researcher is a good researcher, but comes at it with only one thing in mind. This usually takes the form of wanting to get their direct line back to their immigrant ancestor, or just simply direct line back a few generations. Because the One Goal Researcher has a focus, they aren’t easily distracted by BSO (bright, shiny objects) like everyone else. A unique trait of the One Goal Researcher is that they can say that they have ‘finished’ their family tree, once their goal is complete.

The Social Genealogist
The Social Genealogist is one that is a dedicated user of social media (Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest and so on). They read and use it on a daily basis, and they have learnt how to use social media to their advantage with researching. So when you go looking for a Social Genealogist, just look online, as you’re guaranteed to find them there. A bonus with the Social Genealogist is that when you have that big find, and announce it to the world, you know someone will be up, somewhere in the world, so they will cheer and dance along with you.

I have no doubt that you will relate to a number of these (either personally, or though others you know), and perhaps even come across some others. But if you keep your eyes open, over time you will meet every one of them.

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14 Responses to “Are You a Genealogist or a Family Historian?”

  1. Janet Few says:

    Can I be a Hard-Core Family Historian please? With a dash of floor-pile on the side? I long-since realised that ‘genealogist’ and ‘family historian’ have different meanings in different parts of the globe and perhaps they vary too with how long ago a person began researching. To me (in the UK and just this week entering my fifth decade of serious research) genealogy is the basic family tree and family history is the contextual background – all the great local and social history that you can have fun with.

    • Alona says:

      Of course you can be a Hard-Core Family Historian, as well as a Floor-Pile Researcher Janet. I think most people will be a mix of a few of them, I know I am.

  2. Hi Alona, I am definitely a mix, but Hard-Core Genealogist comes closest if I only choose one! I’m glad we met at RootsTech this year.

  3. Anna Graves says:

    Well done Alona, a good variety of Genea-folk! I do recognise people in your descriptions.

    I would readily admit to being a Hard-Core, Die-Hard, Colour-Coding, Floor-Piling, Cemetery Traipsing, Family Historian/Genealogist!

    Plus I have the perfect surname!!!

    God bless the Newbie and beware the Bragger!

    • Alona says:

      So tell me Anna, how can you be a colour-coder AND a floor-pile researcher? Just a work in progress? And you do have the absolute PERFECT surname.

  4. Tony Dell says:

    What is the difference between Genealogy and Family History?

    My definitions are simple:

    Genealogy is building the skeleton (Discover ancestors}.
    Family History is putting meat on the bones (Discover their stories).

  5. Ruth says:

    Great list. How about a Do-Over Repenter? The Newbie who became a Die-Hard or a Hard-Core only to realise their initial lack of coherent research expertise and BSO habits has now become their downfall because they can’t find anything among their Floor-Piles and digital files. They also didn’t initially realise citing their sources was important and can’t remember why they think g-g-grandma was married before. Now they have to go back to the beginning and re-do all of their research to properly source and organise it.

    The Genealogy Do-Over project seems to be a big thing these days. I’m one of them. I’m lucky because I’ve always sourced my research but it was in such a mess!

  6. Holleen says:

    ya got me – I guess I am a Die Hard – medium Core-color-coding-floor piler Cemetery traipsing Social Night Owl genealhistorian! I guess!!

  7. crissouli says:

    I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS or GENERAL INTEREST in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    http://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/friday-fossicking-24th-february-2017.html
    Thank you, Chris

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