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genealogy (jēˌnēŏlˈəjē, –ălˈ–, jĕ–), the study of family lineage. Genealogies have existed since ancient times. Family lineage was originally transmitted through oral tradition and later, with the invention of writing, was passed on through written records. The genealogies in the Bible probably originated in oral tradition. Ancient Greeks and Romans traced their ancestry to gods and heroes, and traditional tribes often claim descent from animals. Genealogies flourished in the Middle Ages because the development of feudalism made status and the transference of possessions dependent upon the tracing of family lines. To a lesser degree, this condition continues in some countries, as England, to the present day. Examples of English genealogies are the books of Burke, Collins, and others on the peerage.

In the United States, pedigree per se has not been crucial in determining status or in transferring property, but race formerly served as a great social divider (e.g., blacks were formerly enslaved in the South and were later denied their civil rights and prohibited from marrying whites in many states). In more limited situations, genealogy has had a degree of importance in the United States: Some societies limit membership to descendants of a particular group of ancestors; the Mormons collect genealogical information for religious purposes and have established a large Family History Library; and some families keep careful genealogical records and stage periodic reunions.

Since the 18th cent. genealogy has developed into a subsidiary academic discipline, serving sociology, history, medicine, and law. Libraries often have departments of genealogy, where volumes used in genealogical research are kept (e.g., passenger ship lists, immigration records, family genealogies, etc.); many historical societies also have such libraries. Many genealogical materials, such as those compiled by the Mormons, are now available for research on the World Wide Web.


See D. L. Jacobus, Genealogy as Pastime and Profession (2d ed. 1968); T. Bestermann, Family History (1971); V. D. Greenwood, The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (1974); G. H. Doane and J. B. Bell, Searching for Your Ancestors (6th ed. 1992).

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  1. the tracing of DESCENT relationships. These accounts are important in societies with LINEAGE systems, where it is common for the older members of the society to be the genealogical experts. Anthropologists have demonstrated that it is not necessary for the version of ancestry to be biologically correct – it may include reference to mythical beings or animals. Attention has also been paid to the possibility of strategic manipulation of genealogy to reflect current political interests.
  2. (FOUCAULT's account of his preferred method) the historical reconstruction of how we have become what we are which acts as an immanent critique of what we are and is directed against the practical achievement of human autonomy (D. Owen, Maturity and Modernity, 1994). This approach to the study and interpretation of history was first proposed by NIETZSCHE and a crucial aspect of the work of both Nietzsche and Foucault is a questioning of the view that historical processes are mono-causal, linear and necessarily progressive. In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche criticizes (and rejects) the notion that history is underscored by gradual ethical advancements by claiming that ideas of morality are the products of contestation and struggle. These struggles tend not to be recorded by the victors, however, as this would reveal the finite nature of that particular value system. With regard to the dominant Christian values of the West Nietzche attempts to uncover the historical processes which surrounded their emergence in order to show that they are neither eternal nor transcendental and can thus be criticized and supplanted. Foucault's genealogical approach applies this form of critique to other beliefs and tries to show that although modern values are often informed by extensive bodies of knowledge they are not less historical, finite or fragile that those of traditional religion. Much of his work focuses on the status of scientific knowledge, particularly that of the human sciences. The ‘truths’ that the disciplines in these latter fields (e.g. anthropology, psychology) claim to have discovered are questioned by investigating their respective pasts and showing that they are underpinned by unscientific irrational and partial assumptions. See DISCOURSE, EPISTMOLOGY, POSTSTRUCTURALISM.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in genetics and selection, the complex of information about the origin of any given individual or group of individual animals or plants. The data of genealogy, that is, the documents and materials bearing testimony as to exactly from which parents and more remote ancestors the animal or vegetable organisms under study originated, are of great importance in genetic work as well as in the work of selection. In livestock-raising, for example, knowing the biological and productive qualities not only of the parents but also of the more remote direct ancestors and the relatives on the so-called lateral line (for instance, in dairy cattle-raising, the milk yield of sisters, mother’s sisters, or father’s sisters) makes it possible to select for crossing with greater certainty of success parental pairs with the object of perfecting a breed or individual herds. For the purpose of taking into account all of these peculiarities of the animals that are being selected, systematic records of pedigreed animals, stud animals, and selection can be kept. The method of compiling a genealogy is also being used in human genetics for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of inheritance of certain normal or pathological characters.



an auxiliary historical discipline concerned with studying the history of families, the origin of individual persons, the establishment of family ties, and the drawing up of pedigrees. It is closely related to heraldry and other auxiliary historical disciplines.

Pedigrees of tsars, rulers, and mythological heroes already existed in ancient times. (Often, they had a legendary character.) However, they acquired a special importance during the Middle Ages in connection with the establishment and formation of class privileges, particularly those of the aristocracy. This led to the appearance of personal, genealogical reference works (in the form of a genealogical tree or tables), which showed all the members of the main and lateral branches of a family, as well as their ties by marriage. An especially large number of such reference works began to appear in the 15th century. Having thus originated and initially developed as a practical field of knowledge that served the purposes of proving the antiquity and fame of the lineage of individual families, genealogy began to take shape from the 17th and 18th centuries as an auxiliary historical discipline. (Among the early genealogists were A. Duchesne and P. Anselme in France, W. Dugdale in Britain, and P. J. Spener, J. W. Imhof, and J. Gutterer in Germany.) Genealogy aids historical researchers in studying family connections and property relations, as well as questions of the origin and content of historical sources, including determining authorship and establishing dates.

In Russia the first indications of genealogy date to the 15th century (data on pedigrees in legal transactions). In the 16th century the first private pedigrees or genealogical registers began to appear, including lists of members of a single family or of several closely related families. The oldest of the registers— Gosudarev rodoslovets (the tsar’s Genealogical Directory) dates from 1555. Later, it was supplemented by new materials. With the abolition in 1682 of the mestnichestvo system, the Chamber of Genealogical Affairs was established, which existed until 1700. At the end of the 17th century the chamber compiled the Barkhatnaia kniga (Velvet Book)—a register of the most aristocratic families in Russia. Published in 1787 was The Pedigree Book of Russian and Emigré Princes and Nobles (parts 1-2). It was based on the Gosudarev rodoslovets, but the registers of noble family names were brought down to the end of the 16th century. The first genealogical tables were drawn up by M. M. Shcher-batov. The Russian Pedigree Book (parts 1-4, 1854-57), written by P. V. Dolgorukov, was a general genealogical work. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries there was no diminution of interest in genealogy on the part of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). The Commission for the Study of Ancient Texts published indexes to the Chronicle Compilations. This was a notable achievement in the study of ancient genealogy. A. V. Ekzempliarskii, R. V. Zotov, and G. A. Vlas’ev published monographic studies devoted to the princely genealogies of northern Rus’, Chernigov, and the house of Riurik. The Pedigree Collection of Noble Russian Family Names (vols. 1-2, 1886-87), a work by V. V. Rummel’ and V. V. Golubtsov, was very important. Extensive research was devoted to the history of the Iusupov, Golitsyn, Sheremetev, Bariatinskii, and other families. The development of numismatics permitted the solution of a number of problems in Eastern genealogy. Using Russian coin collections, V. V. Bartol’d translated and furnished notes for Lane-Poole’s book, Muhammedan Dynasties. V. V. Vel’iaminov-Zernov did a great deal of work on the study of the genealogy of the Kasim kings’ sons. The works of L. M. Savelov, which were devoted to the bibliography of genealogy, held an important place, as well as the lectures on Russian genealogy that he delivered to students at the Moscow Archaeological Institute during 1907-12.

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries there also appeared summarizing works, devoted to specific types and groups of Russian and Ukrainian genealogical books (compiled by A. B. Lobanov-Rostovskii, G. A. Miloradovich, and V. L. Modzalevskii). This revival of interest in genealogical research was also connected with the formation of the Russian Genealogical Society (1895, St. Petersburg) and the Historical Pedigree Society (1904, Moscow), which published Izvestiia (Bulletin) and Letopisi (Chronicles).

After 1917 genealogy took a direction that was completely different in principle. The attention of researchers was turned to historiographical problems and problems of the study of the texts of the pedigree books (M. E. Bychkova), as well as to the genealogy and history of peasant and merchant and industrial capital (N. E. Nosov). Of great importance for the genealogy of Russian feudal families are the published and unpublished works of S. B. Veselovskii. During the Soviet period investigations have appeared on the genealogy of outstanding figures in Russian science, culture, and social thought, including works devoted to the pedigrees of A. S. Pushkin, A. N. Radishchev, the Aksakovs, and M. V. Lomonosov. A special place is occupied by research on the genealogy of V. I. Lenin and the Ul’ianov family.


Levshin, B. V. “Obzor dokumental’nykh materialov fonda akademika S. B. Veselovskogo.” Arkheograficheskii ezhegodnik za 1958. Moscow, 1960.
Lorenz, O. Lehrbuch der gesammten wissenschaftlichen Genealogie. Berlin, 1898.
Durye, P. La généalogie. Paris, 1961.
Pine, L. G. The Genealogist’s Encyclopedia. [New York, 1969.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A record of the descent of a family, group, or person from an ancestor or ancestors.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the direct descent of an individual or group from an ancestor
2. the study of the evolutionary development of animals and plants from earlier forms
3. a chart showing the relationships and descent of an individual, group, genes, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005