[google-site-verification=BUAlvMnZmaWmFqYUikfKRXtYJYxId8l6lrVnALp5aG0] Genealogist vs. Historian | HALIFAx GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY | Linda Vivian

Genealogist vs. Historian

GENEALOGIST VS. HISTORIAN: What’s the Difference?
By Linda Vivian

We often hear someone described as a genealogist, forensic genealogist, family historian, or just plain historian. So what’s the difference? All of them may use aspects of genealogy and history, the label just depends on the purpose.

A genealogist concentrates on identifying a family lineage and may then choose to capture their story in a narrative (family history). The account focuses on the family itself, perhaps with a reoccurring theme, using history as context to explain their circumstance and actions. Other people are included only to support the family story. Example: Dowd: An American Journey is a set of four volumes about eight generations of the Dowd family. Their generational migrations from colonial times to the 21st century is the thread that ties the personal stories together, using history only to provide context. The author (me!) is a genealogist/family historian.

A forensic genealogist researches deceased people to determine identification and sometimes find living relatives, e.g., to solve a cold case, mystery, mistaken identity, return an heirloom, etc., such as MIAs, victims, imposters, etc. Example: America, Your Roots Are Showing by Megan Smolenyak, a series of stories about her exploits to uncover or unravel identifications or heritage. The author is a forensic genealogist.

A historian focuses on an era, event, or circumstance, and then uses a person or group (not necessarily related) to support the account. Although it may contain biographical or familial content, the purpose is to present the historical aspect. People’s stories are included to personalize or explain it in an engaging way. Example: Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard is about the Manhattan Project (creation of the Atomic Bomb during World War II) using personal stories of eight unrelated women to illustrate the circumstances and environment of a historical happening in World War II. The author is a historian.

HGS 2013