22 Sep

Genealogical Methodology

Genealogical Methodology sounds complicated; but it is not.  All genres, including genealogy, have specific methods (methodologies) for research. The study of anthropology, in the United States, as a major in college was introduced in the 20th century.  (See the link below).  However, the study of genealogy is just beginning to be offered through university anthropology and history departments.


A professional genealogist, who uses genealogical methodology, is hired for a variety of purposes, such as an heir finder, an expert witness, or for paleography transcriptions.  He or she may have a website for ancestral tours, heritage consulting, genetic DNA analyses, finding immigration and naturalization records, grave finding, or for photographic identification, to name a few. They are hired for their genealogical methodology expertise.

According to ABC News, and articles in Time and USA Today, genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States, after gardening.  (See link at the bottom of this post.)  It is also the second most visited category of websites. Most hobby genealogists will not rise to the levels of accomplishment mentioned above, yet we persist in researching, no matter how tedious.  Sometimes, it becomes a life-long pursuit.  Knowledge about aspects of culture oftentimes relieves research anxiety and frustration.

Why would a cultural anthropology website discuss genealogy? Genealogy research and writing is greatly enhanced by using anthropology methods. Cultural studies adds to one’s understanding of who your ancestors were as human beings. Anthropology studies of urban occupations, types of uniforms, vintage clothing, unusual costumes, masks, ribbons, and badges can give you great hints about which Global Village is your ancestor’s origin.  Our ancestors are much more than names, dates, and places!  They lived lives of importance and maybe grandeur, even amidst struggles, apprehensions, and perils.

Our ancestors lived through wars, and/or cultural, religious, and government upheavals. They had families, fortunes, careers, loves, and disappointments. We know, through our own imperfections, that our ancestors were not perfect.  Their stories, no matter how mundane or how great, need to be told – and told accurately. Cultural anthropology knowledge helps us to understand and interpret their lives and how they lived and worked in their various cultural environments.

The most important aspect of genealogy research, where cultural anthropology knowledge is critical, is determining accuracy.  An experience in locating one of my Hispanic ancestors had to do with his ancestral birth place. My internet search indicated BC as the name of the place my ancestor was born. When I found the family tree where this was noted, it said “British Columbia!” Really?  My own relative posted the inaccuracy on Ancestry.com! What is the meaning of BC, for geographic location, in the Hispanic world? It turned out it was not British Columbia, but Baja California, Mexico.  Of course it might have been a myriad of other places, but cultural knowledge helped me realize I should search elsewhere, besides British Columbia.

What records might a professional genealogist, using genealogical methodologies, help you interpret? How about Probate Records?  They may be 200 years old and written in “old English.” The writing is not the only thing of importance, however.  What was the cultural context of the record?  Who were the players? Cultural studies would alert you that women could not inherit property a century ago without a husband, if they were Anglo women. However, Spanish women did not have that disadvantage.

Deeds, mortgages, and wills are only one type of resource where cultural knowledge would be helpful. Vital records, such as marriage, divorce, adoption, birth, and death documents all have cultural laws which apply to how they are kept and where you might find them–online and/or at brick and mortar repositories.


Stay tuned for instructional posts on ways you can incorporate genealogical methodology into your own research.  In the meantime, Explore More!



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