Genealogy, study of family origins and history involving the compilation of lists of ancestors showing the line of descent. Apart from its value to the general historian, genealogy represents both a highly skilled professional activity and a widespread amateur preoccupation. In modern times, the main purposes of genealogy are to gain historical information to settle legal questions, such as inheritance, and to gain membership in certain patriotic and hereditary organizations, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. Although genealogies existed in ancient times among the Babylonians and the Hebrews, they were passed on by oral tradition and cannot be historically verified. In medieval Europe, family names were used only by the upper classes, and genealogical records for the other classes are nonexistent. In England, parish records were instituted for the general public in the 16th century. In the United States the earliest census record was 1790.