Genealogy is the study of ancestry, or family lineage. Genealogists trace lines of family ancestry and usually show their findings by means of pedigree charts, or genealogical trees. Their studies may be relevant to history, law, sociology, or eugenics. Or their appeal may be more limited and personal. Most peoples have, at some time, venerated their ancestors, often by ancestor worship. Primitive societies, which are usually organized in tribes or clans, have often sought to trace clan ancestry to gods, legendary heroes, or animals. Clans can thus bolster their identity and strive for divine protection. Lineages were originally transmitted by oral tradition, but later literate societies began to write them down. Notable early Western examples include the genealogies of the tribes of Israel (recorded in the Bible), the Greeks, and the Romans.

Genealogies assumed particular importance in connection with the principle of inheritance--of power, rank, and property. Lists of hereditary kings were compiled by the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese. In medieval Europe feudal landholders kept records for the transference of rank and land. Concern with descent, and thus rank, was also reflected in heraldic developments (see HERALDRY); a single coat of arms can incorporate an enormous amount of genealogical information.

In modern times, social status has depended less on pedigree, but genealogy remains of interest to many people other than scholars. The United States, for example, has numerous genealogical societies that trace people's descent. Many patriotic organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, limit membership to descendants of a particular historical group.

The Mormon church has collected an enormous bank of genealogical data (official registers of births, marriages, and deaths and related documents), probably the greatest such collection in existence. Church members use these records in order to bring their ancestors posthumously into the church (see MORMONISM). Popular interest in genealogy was stimulated by the television dramatization of Alex HALEY's ROOTS (1976); in researching this book Haley had traced his ancestry back to his African forebears. A major appeal of genealogy is that it provides people with a sense of continuity and of belonging.

Bibliography: Andereck, Paul, and Pence, Richard, Computer Genealogy (1985); Besterman, Theodore, Family History (1971); Delson, Eric, Ancestors (1985); Doane, Gilbert H., Searching for Your Ancestors, 5th ed. (1980); Greenwood, V. D., The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (1973); Hareven, T., and Plakans, A., eds., Family History at the Crossroads (1987); Hibberts, Joyce W., and Saffell, Kathleen K., Digging up Your Roots: A Guide to Basic Geneological Sources (1989); McNaughton, Arnold, The Book of Kings: A Royal Genealogy, 3 vols. (1974); Pine, Leslie G., American Origins: Sources for Genealogical Research and Records Abroad (1960; repr. 1980) and Heraldry and Genealogy (1974); Unett, John, Making a Pedigree (1961; repr. 1971).