What Is Genealogy and Why Should You Care?

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13327

Think you might be related to Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, or George Washington? Would you like to find out? Learn what genealogy is and why it's important, and start on a lifelong journey of discovery!


Practical Life Skills, Social Studies

Life Skills
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


As you begin to study your family's genealogy, some of the terms may be a bit confusing.

For example:

Genealogy is the study of a person or a family's unique history; it's tracing our roots back to learn about our heritage.

Along the way, we may find lost relatives, solve some old mysteries, and get the facts about many questions that have long gone unanswered.

In this first lesson of our Genealogy series, we'll get a basic overview of genealogy: what it is, why people research it, and what we can find out when we begin to study it!

Let's learn from a professional genealogist just what exactly genealogy is and some of the terms that are used. Write down the answers to the following questions as you watch the video below:

  • What is genealogy?
  • What are direct lines?
  • What are collateral lines?
  • What are descendants and ancestors?
  • What is a generation?
  • What are some forms of a family tree?

What is Genealogy? (And other terminology) from Mauri Pratt:

The two forms of family trees mentioned in the video are the pedigree chart and the fan chart. Use the slider beneath the images below to see examples of both:

In this series of Related Lessons, found in the right-hand sidebar, you will put together a family tree (or add to one you already have).

There will be some more terms to learn before we start our research. Let's get some of the terms of the relationships straight now!

  • Did you answer the opening question correctly? Did you know what a second cousin, once removed is?

Even if you guessed correctly, watch What's a Second Cousin Once Removed?, by Jared Owen, to learn more:

Now, let's take a look at some of the things we may find when we delve into our family histories!

Seeing the Big Picture


One of the things you'll learn is that you're connected to everyone!

  • Not sure about that?

Genealogist Elizabeth Mills says it's true. Watch We Are All Cousins from the National Genealogical Society:

Finding Lost Relatives

girls laughing

Many people who've been adopted decide at some point to search for their biological families. This leads to interesting discoveries and often brings a lot of joy, and a stronger feeling of connection.

Long-lost brothers who found each other at same college speak out: 'I was in disbelief' from Good Morning America:

Learning About Ancestors and Ethnic Heritage

different cultures

Discovering your ancestors and your ethnic heritage can really expand your understanding of who you are.

Watch as Kieron, from the above video, goes even farther into his family history and learns about his ancestors in Africa.

Kieron's Journey Home | Finding Your Roots | Ancestry:

Of course, it's not always good news when you learn about your ancestors.

They may have done things that you won't be proud of. You have to be prepared for some sad stories, even shocking revelations.

Watch as an American documentary maker learns that one of his ancestors was not what he thought in the PBS video Ken Burns' Revolutionary War Shocker | FINDING YOUR ROOTS, Preview | PBS:

Solving Mysteries

detective gear

When studying your family history, you may come across a name you don't recognize and ask: who is this person?

Just like any mystery, you need to gather some clues in order to solve it. Watch the Ancestry video below as a young woman learns who one of her ancestors was and what he did.

WWI Ancestry Discovery Solves Charlotte's Family Mystery | My Family Secrets Revealed | Ancestry:

  • So, how do people find all this information?

Fortunately for us today, we can find a lot of genealogy information on the internet.

  • Is it very difficult to find and keep track of it all?

No, not really. You can do as much or as little research as you want, then you can organize and present it in any way you choose!

Maybe you think genealogy is only for professionals or adults. Not so!

Watch Teenage Genealogist From South Jersey Is Helping Connect Families from CBS Philly:

  • Would you like to be a genealogist, too?

Move on to the Got It? section to review what you've learned and get a handle on some useful genealogical terms.

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We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.