Wendy Wilson Spooner  ~ Genetic Genealogist, Lic. G., LCoT

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​Know My Roots - Genetic Genealogy

Wendy Wilson Spooner -Genetic Genealogist, Lic. G.

The history of genealogy

-By Wendy Wilson Spooner

(Article adapted from a paper written by Wendy Wilson Spooner March, 2013 for the American School of Genealogy, Heraldry, and Documentary Sciences, a subsidiary of the International College of Interdisciplinary Sciences)

Through centuries of time, family history research has been conducted by individuals, families, and professionals.  Although genealogical historians agree on most aspects of the origins of family history research, as well as modern day facets of the work, some discrepancies exist that can be explored through asking the following questions:

1.    When did genealogy begin?
2.    Who is conducting modern genealogical research and why?
3.    Can an individual trace their lineage all the way back to Adam?
4.    What types of methods are available to researchers today?

When Did Genealogy Begin?

Through cave paintings, petroglyphs, and tombstone art, early humans sought to be remembered by those who would follow them.  Man has thought to leave record of himself since time began, explains Donna Potter-Phillips (2013). Ancient Hebrews found family ancestry vital in proving descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses, to show rights to hold the Levitical priesthood.  

The Ancient Greeks, Assyrians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Inca civilizations found genealogy vital to their people for reasons such as worship, proof of leadership lineage, and to show descent from “The Gods.”Moreover, encyclopedia Britannica explains that before the creation of written records, ancient oral traditions were used to pass along vital ancestral knowledge from one generation to the next.  Since memory skills were imperative to oral tradition, the aid of knot arrangements used by the pre-Hispanic Peruvians, or other utilities like the mnemonic bead system used by the ancient Maori of New Zealand, assisted in the remembrance of lengthy lists of ancestral names (“Genealogy,” 2013).

Who Is Conducting Modern Genealogical Research and Why?

Kathleen W. Hinckley (2013) states that the 20th century began with a new and attractive hobby, genealogy, which quickly gained popularity and approval.  Presently, as the 21st century continues, thousands of individuals are joining hereditary societies with an increased outpouring of attention by those pursuing their roots.  The largest portion of the United States population, the “baby boomers,” enthusiastically conduct their own ancestral research with web sites that offer attractive introductions to genealogy for people of all circumstances, ethnicities, and ages. Even corporate America has become aware of the marketing potential to genealogists as they invest in family research products and services.

Additionally, Michael Sharpe (2011) explains that people commence tracing their family history for varied and numerous reasons.  Sometimes the reason is simply curiosity; in other cases the death of a close relative incites the idea to search for information. Also, the notion of playing detective may be attractive, or a deceased family member’s possession might be discovered, along with the will to dispel the mystery surrounding the artifact.

Can an Individual Trace Their Lineage All the Way Back to Adam?

According to Encyclopedia Britannica (2013) multiple genealogies are listed in the New Testament.  The purpose expressed is to show descent from Adam, Noah, and Abraham.  Michael Sharpe (2011) states that religious historian Donald Akenson has described The Old Testament genealogical chronicle as a large imposing instrument, exercising a power over cultures to follow, that is essentially impossible to overthrow - and in some areas, still stands as true documentation today.

In contrast however, Robert C. Gunderson states that the possibility does not exist to historically confirm a linked European pedigree, earlier than approximately 450 A.D.  Gunderson explains that all attempts to do so seem founded on questionable tradition and possibly fabrication when efforts are made to breach the gap between 450 A.D. and Biblical bloodlines. In general, the claims made by these pedigrees hold no supporting original source information, or the sources are too ambiguous to be considered viable (Potter-Phillips, 2013).

What is available through modern technology to researchers today?

Michael Sharpe (2011) observes that the world of family history is evolving more swiftly than ever before.  Expansion of family history societies, the opening of public records, the introduction of microfiche and computers, as well as the internet, have assisted in making family research available to everyone. Technology now permits users to initiate a large amount of research from home without ever stepping outside.  Social networks and email allow amateur historians to exchange data online and construct their family trees together over the internet. Family history research has evolved from an obscure, cryptic amusement of gentlemen and scholars, to an ordinary modern day pursuit states Sharpe.  

Kathleen W. Hinckley (2013) supports this idea in her statement that: If a genealogist researching in 1900 were able to time travel to the year 2000, the volume of research tools, education, and technology would be overwhelming…we have more indexes and digital images of original records; and there will be more mergers and involvement by big business.  But regardless of time period, genealogists will always continue to seek out records hidden in courthouse attics and basements.In conclusion, Hinckley’s description reinforces the idea that the world populations are advancing the unearthing of family lineages while modern conveniences and technology make this endeavor easier than ever. 


“Genealogy”.  Encyclopedia Britannica.  Encyclopedia Britannica Online.  Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., http///www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/228297/genealogy>.  (Accessed March 14, 2013).

Hinckley, Kathleen K.  “A Century of Genealogy”. http://www.genealogy.com/61  Kathy.html. (Accessed March 15, 2013).Potter-Phillips, Donna.  

“History of Genealogy”.  http://www.familychronicle.com/HistoryOfGenealogy.html (accessed March 14, 2013).

Sharpe, Michael.  Family Matters. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, Pen & Sword Books Ltd, 2011.