Shaping Your Family Tree: Defining Terminology tagged:

Shaping Your Family Tree: Defining Terminology

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Everything has its own terminology – sports, science, filmmaking, the internet – genealogy is no different. Some of the words below look basic – we learned them as kids. But this doesn’t prevent them from being used to mean different things. I won’t say incorrectly. However, just as a baseball fan might cringe at someone referring to a run as ‘scoring a point’, or a computer geek might cringe at HTML being described as a programming language, there are ‘proper’ definitions for these terms that won’t sound like fingernails scraping a chalkboard to the aficionado

1. Genealogy

Wikipedia says, “the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.” That’s a good concise definition.  Some people differentiate between “Genealogy” and “Family History” and suggest that genealogists focus on lineages, and family historians on the history.  However, I suspect many involved in this pursuit would have a difficult time classifying themselves if they had to choose between the two.

It’s also important to notice how the word is spelled. Only one ‘o’. Please don’t put another ‘o’ anywhere else in the word.

Note: I realize that the words below are used differently in some cultures.  The definitions below fit British and American usage.

2. Ancestors

Your parents; the parents of your parents; the parents of the parents of your parents; etc.

3. Descendants

Your children; the children of your children; the children of the children of your children; etc.

4. Collateral Relatives

This is a term you may not have heard used before, but it is a catch-all for relatives who are not ancestors or descendants. These include siblings, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

5. Cousins

First cousins, second cousins, once removed, three times removed, these can be confusing. Below is a relationship chart that should make it easier.

Any two relatives have a ‘common ancestor.’ (If they don’t, they aren’t related. At least, not by blood.) Once you figure out who their common ancestor is, place them in the top square of the diamond. Find each of the two relatives on the left and right edges. When you ‘complete the rectangle’ you’ll see the relationship.

For example

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out how you’re related to the great granddaughter of your 6th great grandfather. You’re the 6th great grandson, so that puts you at square #8 on the right hand side. The great granddaughter is at square #3 on the left. The two lines meet at 2nd cousin 5 times removed.  [The chart comes from the Wikipedia entry on cousins.  While the text of the entry could be more clearly written, the charts are quite good.]

6. Black Sheep

A member of the family tree known to be ‘different.’ The term is often considered negative, however there are ‘black sheep’ in every family tree, and genealogists learn to expect them, and sometimes treasure them.

What one considers a ‘black sheep’ might vary between families. For example, one family line of mine was predominantly made up of loyalists during the American Revolution. For them, the few traitors in their circle were the black sheep, and they were anything but patriotic.

Not to be confused, of course, with an albino blacksheep.

Feel free to ask questions.  About genealogy in general, or your research in particular. Either in the comments, or send an email to jcnewmark at gmail dot com.  If I can, I will try to answer your questions in future posts. Or at least suggest avenues of research you might pursue.