Scientists Say: Genealogy

This is the study of family descent from an ancestor


Family trees like this one can help people to keep track of their genealogy — the study of whom they have descended from.

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Genealogy (noun, “GEE-knee-ALL-oh-gee”)

Genealogy is the study of family descent — how one person is related to their parents, grandparents, cousins and more. Many people are interested in tracing their genealogy to discover where their family came from. They might also want to find other people they are related to. But genealogy also applies to species beyond us humans. A person can study the genealogy of a dog or horse, for instance. That information can be useful in events such as dog shows and horse races. Genealogy can also help scientists trace how modern species may have evolved.

Genealogists — people who study genealogy — may construct family trees as they work. These branching drawings help them track who is related to whom. This can be done by searching through historical records that can record when people were born, married or died. Now, though, people can also learn about their family history by getting their DNA analyzed. DNA molecules are passed from parent to child. This means DNA can provide clues to how people are related. A number of DNA screening companies today help people find relatives they might not have known about. They also can help people figure out where in the world their families may have come from.

In a sentence

Now, anyone can send their spit to a genealogy company that will analyze their DNA to tell them who they might be related to.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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