July 22, 2019

The importance of genealogy: Genealogy’s history worldwide

by admin in Uncategorised
So, where did it all begin? 

Image: A family tree diagram in a scrapbook [Source]

As you know we are an international event, so we’re intrigued to discover how genealogy arose.

The history of genealogy cannot be attributed to one factor. As you can imagine, it is a mixture of multiple aspects as a result of educational, and socio-economic developments. However, it can be divided into three stages. The first is that of oral tradition; the second, is ascribed to writing and the third stage comprises the period from approximately 1500 in western Europe and later in the English-speaking world, during which the whole basis of genealogy widened to such an extent that it is now possible for the majority of people in western Europe to trace their ancestry.

It’s time to discover genealogy’s roots!

The first stage: Oral Tradition

History as we know it can be presented in many ways, but our all-time favourite (if we do say so ourselves!) has to be storytelling. That’s exactly how the first stage of genealogy emanated, through oral tradition! Oral tradition can come in many forms, including, folktales, ballads, chants, prose or verses. These stories, in whatever form they take, are passed down through generations by word of mouth and were once the only valuable source one had in order to connect to their past. Not only this but it made it possible for information and knowledge to be passed onto others, which makes it incredibly significant.

Here are some example of oral tradition around the world:

Ancient Greece and The Middle East

Image: Ancient Greece by Nikos Niotos [Source]

In ancient Greece, oral tradition was the most dominant tradition. Homer’s epic poetry, states Michael Gagarin, was largely composed, performed and transmitted orally. As folklores and legends were performed in front of distant audiences, the singers would substitute the names in the stories with local characters or rulers to give the stories a local flavor and thus connect with the audience. Although it made for an enticing tale, the history embedded in the oral tradition tended to be unreliable.

Native America

Image: Chief Hollow Horn Bear of the Sioux Indian tribe [Source]

Writing systems are not known to exist among Native North Americans before contact with Europeans. Instead, oral storytelling traditions thrived without the use of writing to record and preserve history, scientific knowledge, and social practices. Some stories were told for amusement and leisure, most functioned as practical lessons from tribal experience applied to immediate moral, social, psychological, and environmental issues.



Image: Mumbai/ Bombay train station in the 1930s [Source]

In Asia, the transmission of oral traditions such as folklore mythologies as well as scriptures in ancient India, in different Indian religions, was by oral tradition. They were preserved with the help of mnemonic techniques. (This consisted of several pathas, ‘recitations’ or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras.)

The second stage: The invention of writing

As education became more prominent, the next stage of the genealogy can be attributed to written texts.

Image: Written texts [Source]

“With the invention of writing, the oral became the written tradition. This occurred in Greece and Rome, where genealogies were recorded in poems and in histories.” [Source]


Historically, in Western societies the focus of genealogy was on the kinship and descent of rulers and nobles, often arguing or demonstrating the legitimacy of claims to wealth and power. The term often overlapped with heraldry, in which the ancestry of royalty was reflected in their coats of arms. Modern scholars consider many claimed noble ancestries to be fabrications, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that traced the ancestry of several English kings to the god Woden. [Source]


Image: A Medieval genealogy traced from Adam and Eve [Source]

The third stage: Modern day

In the post-modern world, genealogy became more widespread, with commoners as well as nobility researching and maintaining their family trees. Genealogy received a boost in the late 1970s with the television broadcast of Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. His account of his family’s descent from the African tribesman Kunta Kinte inspired many others to study their own lines.

Image: Book cover of Roots: The saga of an American Family by Alex Haley [Source]

With the arrival of the Internet, the number of resources readily accessible to genealogists has vastly increased, resulting in an explosion of interest in the topic. According to some sources, including ABC news , genealogy is one of the most popular topics on the Internet (it is in fact almost as popular as gardening!). The Internet has become not only a major source of data for genealogists, but also a means of education and communication.

We hope this has given you enough inspiration to start (or continue) researching your own roots and also the ways in which you can present this information. Oh, and don’t forget, THE Genealogy Show 2020 can give you all the guidance you need for all things genealogy!


In Wednesday’s blog, John Boeren will be giving his opinion on the importance of genealogy and will give you an insight on how we can better understand our multicultural society.

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