Scientists Say: Genealogy | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Genealogy

This is the study of family descent from an ancestor
May 6, 2019 — 6:30 am EST
a drawing of a family tree

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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Power Words

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DNA     (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) A long, double-stranded and spiral-shaped molecule inside most living cells that carries genetic instructions. It is built on a backbone of phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon atoms. In all living things, from plants and animals to microbes, these instructions tell cells which molecules to make.

evolve    (adj. evolving) To change gradually over generations, or a long period of time. In living organisms, such an evolution usually involves random changes to genes that will then be passed along to an individual’s offspring. These can lead to new traits, such as altered coloration, new susceptibility to disease or protection from it, or different shaped features (such as legs, antennae, toes or internal organs). Nonliving things may also be described as evolving if they change over time. For instance, the miniaturization of computers is sometimes described as these devices evolving to smaller, more complex devices.

family     A taxonomic group consisting of at least one genus of organisms.

genealogy     The study of ancestry records and other aspects of a family’s history. People who work in this field are known as genealogists.

generation    A group of individuals (in any species) born at about the same time or that are regarded as a single group. Your parents belong to one generation of your family, for example, and your grandparents to another. Similarly, you and everyone within a few years of your age across the planet are referred to as belonging to a particular generation of humans. The term also is sometimes extended to year classes of other animals or to types of inanimate objects (such as electronics or automobiles).

molecule     An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

species     A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.