25 June 2013 marked an important date in the history of discovering one’s ancestors. On that day User:Morphh merged two Wikipedia articles “Genealogy” and “Family History” into a single article titled “Genealogy.” The merge was the culmination of a two-year discussion (now closed) among Wikipedians over whether the terms are synonyms or have different meanings. The consensus was that any distinctions in modern English were so subtle and undefined that there should be only one article.
Which term is more popular? Why did the title “Genealogy” trump “Family History” in the merger? This portion of the Wikipedia process is not entirely explained (Update: User:Morphh clarifies the decision was based on Article Title conventions, such as word recognizability and popularity; see comment below).
Search engine keyword analysis is a powerful tool to measure the popularity of words. Programs, such as Google AdWord’s Google Keyword Tool, measure how many times in a given period people perform Google searches for particular words. Here is the current measurement:
|English (all countries)||Genealogy||Family History|
|Global monthly searches||4,090,000||2,240,000|
So at present, the English-speaking world searches the Internet nearly twice as often for the term “genealogy,” as compared to “family history.”
To reach the widest audience, marketers know, if they have to choose one or the other, that the term “genealogy” is the most popular word in our genre.
Another interesting idea – how are the terms used differently in British English and American English? In the United Kingdom, a society dedicated to discovering one’s ancestors is called a “family history society.” In the United States, the same group is referred to as a “genealogical society.” Are there any real differences in the activities and purposes of these organizations? Or is this simply a difference between British English and American English?
What do you think?
- In today’s world are “genealogy” and “family history” used interchangeably?
- Is there a difference? Should there be a difference?
- Which term do you use more often to describe the discovery of one’s ancestors?
A further thought
In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the two terms are grouped together in one article, like Wikipedia, and declared synonyms:
“The terms ‘family history’ and ‘genealogy’ are synonymous for Latter-day Saints. Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said, ‘The process by which we identify our place in our eternal family is called genealogy. Genealogy is family history’ (Regional Representatives Seminar, April 3, 1987).” Dr. David H. Pratt, BYU Family History Professor
My personal opinion is the same, the words “genealogy” and “family history” are synonyms. I also consider “genealogy” quantifiably more popular, but recognize both are used interchangeably to convey the meaning of what we do.
I’d love to hear from you!