online genealogyYou’ve heard the buzz terms — family, DNA testing, six degrees of separation (and Kevin Bacon) — but you may not know that these terms relate to genealogy and online genealogy services. What can genealogy services actually do? To help you understand why online genealogy services may be valuable, we’ve translated what these services are and what they can do for you.

What are genealogy services?

The word “genealogy” may evoke images of a top-secret superhero lab with some blockbuster magic, but genealogy services are actually easily understandable and accessible. Genealogy is the study of family ancestries, histories and lineages, and a genealogy service allows you to research and track your ancestry alongside thousands of other people. You’ve probably seen examples of the field in your middle school history textbook — remember that House of Tudor pedigree depicting which child from which beheaded wife would succeed King Henry VIII’s former throne? That’s an example of a family tree, one genealogical tool that traces and preserves proposed lines of descent. Today, genealogy services allow you to build a family tree using online tools, DNA testing and more.

What can genealogy services do for you?

Genealogy services can provide you information that can help you see your history in fresh ways. That’s because these services have access to a number of historical record-storing databases, which means you can search for family members to find their birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates and more. Besides acting as records to back up inheritance claims and preserve history, pedigrees (or family trees) also allow you to uncover potential kinship ties. By pursuing a genealogical project, you could discover a long-lost relative or a new icebreaker-worthy fun fact, such as your family connection to one of the Founding Fathers or Spanish royalty. Here are three things a genealogy service can help you do:

Explore your family tree, branch by branch

Scaling a full-grown sequoia without prior experience can be knee-trembling, but online genealogy services hand you the tools, records and automated hints to help you start uncovering family branches easily. Ancestry, for example, allows subscribers to create family trees and gather assorted memoirs and connect relevant records to family members. FamilySearch also provides some of its genealogical materials to subscribers through communal efforts, having crowdsourced volunteers to index records. As you’re building your family tree with an online genealogy service, you can see if it overlaps with someone else’s, which helps you not only fill in missing parts of your tree, but also connect to a potential living relative.

Piece lineages together through your DNA strands

To uncover more of your heritage and cultural lineage, some services offer DNA testing. For example, MyHeritage, provides MyHeritage DNA, a genetic testing service that reveals your ethnicity and helps you unveil more information about your ancestry. To complete the MyHeritage DNA test, you simply give your cheek some swipes, mail the swabs to a lab and wait for the results. Some DNA tests require a saliva sample that you provide by spitting into a tube, while others employ this cheek swab method. After you receive the test results, you can cross-reference them with your family pedigree’s information and potentially follow migration patterns, discover more branches in your family tree and dig deeper into the roots and story of you.

Trace medical conditions

Genealogy services can even help trace medical conditions that may descend a family ladder, potentially revealing predispositions that you and your descendants may have. For example, the inheritance of red-green color blindness, frequently a hereditary condition, can be easily diagrammed through a pedigree. Additionally, if you opt to take advantage of DNA testing, you can find out whether or not you’re genetically predisposed to any medical conditions.

Whether you are determined to preserve history or curious about your ancestry, genealogy services can provide something for you. To start your family research off on the right foot, visit our reviews of online genealogy services and find the right service for you.