Geneology or Genealogy?: That is the Question

Perhaps one of the most misspelled words in the English language is the word "genealogy" and it is often mispronounced as well. Many want to spell it "geneology" like geology, biology and zoology. However, if you type "geneology" into a search engine, it will immediately ask if you mean "genealogy". There is even at least one research site out there that capitalizes on this misspelling and refers to the study of one's ancestors as "geneology".

According to Wikipedia, the word genealogy (not geneology) derives from the Greek word genea for "generation" and logos which means "knowledge". The knowledge of one's preceding generations is often displayed as a chart, picture or narrative. Some scholars differentiate between pure genealogy (which consists of names, dates and places) and family history, which implies knowledge of the history of one's family - that is, the circumstances of their lives, occupations, religion, education, culture, historic events, military participation, health, neighborhood etc. Since we are a product of our ancestors' genes, this makes sense, but we are also a product of their choices. If they chose to emigrate from Germany to Canada, or England to New Zealand, or chose to put themselves in a position where they were likely to be deported for their political, legal or religious views, then we are where we are today because of them.

The study of genealogy (not geneology) is of interest to almost everyone, whether they are young or old. Some want to know about their ancestors for medical reasons but most are curious to know where they came from, what part in history their ancestors played, or why they have red hair. There are a lot of resources for those who want to find out more about their genealogy (not geneology) from documents you can find at home and interviews of relatives to government records, cemeteries and churches.

I taught family history courses at Brigham Young University for many years, both in the Religion and in the History departments. Just recently, the name of one of my Independent Study courses was changed from Scottish Family History Research to Scottish Family, Local, and Social History Research. This emphasis on a broader spectrum allows one to put their ancestors in a social context. What always surprised me was that, even after a whole semester in one of my genealogy classes, some students still insisted on spelling it "geneology" on the final exam!

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