Have you ever thought about piecing together the stories of your ancestors? At a time when mass immigration, class struggle, wars overseas, political division, and economic uncertainty are daily headlines, it can be eye opening to realize these same issues were impacting the lives of previous generations.
Using birth records, obituary search, newspaper archives, and other genealogical records can often lead to a number of surprises, upending many assumptions you have about your family history.
If you also use your Internet-based research to unearth relevant questions to ask your older relatives, you’ll feel closer to everyone in your family tree. In fact, almost half the people who do this type of in-depth research discover surprising things about ancestors that they didn’t even know existed.
If you’re hesitating, assuming you don’t have the time or patience to make the effort to discover your own roots, here are five compelling reasons why you might just find this the most rewarding hobby of your life:
1. Everyone in your family will benefit.
You are doing your immediate family, no matter how large or small it is, a valuable service by researching and recording your family history. You’ve probably heard the famous Arnold Toynbee quote, “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” Well, imagine, then, how powerful learning the history of your family will be in shaping the choices of future generations yet unborn.
2. Your research will touch other people’s lives.
History is not just the story of kings, queens, warriors, empires, conquests, and discoveries. It’s also the stories of ordinary people who lived through the triumphs and tribulations of their times, who stood up against tyranny and oppression, who fought for grand causes that changed history, and who immigrated to new lands to give their offspring a better future. Inspiring figures in your family’s past will not only touch the lives of your family members, but anyone else who reads your research.
3. Discover where you come from.
Right now, you probably just remember your grandparents, and if you’re lucky, you may have heard some stories about your great grandparents. After that scant bit of knowledge, everything beyond that fades into obscurity. However, imagine how you would feel if you discovered, as an example, that you are a descendant of the few brave families on the Mayflower. They not only created a new life for themselves but produced millions of descendants. Won’t it be thrilling to discover that you might be one of those descendants? It’s hard to think of wasting your life in idle pursuits knowing that your ancestors sacrificed everything to give you the opportunities you have now. Knowing where you come from may fill your life with purpose and direction.
4. You’ll be translating abstractions into stories.
While developing a family tree, with real names and places and connections is interesting, it’s still something of an abstraction. However, what if you were to do more than chronicle births, marriages and deaths and write about the lives of some of your ancestors? Currently, the memories of your family are fragmented, distorted, abstracted, and forgotten. You will be putting many of the pieces together again, recovering what has been lost, clarifying myths, and transforming abstractions into narrations.
5. You’ll be building a foundation for future genealogists.
Since your family tree is probably far more extensive than you will ever be able to research, you will only be able to snatch a small portion of your family’s history from the obscurity of the past. However, you will leave behind a record for others to pick up the thread to further develop the story. Even history books are not entirely based on primary documents because many of them have been lost. Consequently, historians include what earlier historians had recorded.
In closing, this type of quest will give you a sense of perspective. You’ll realize how far you have come in our modern age. Rather than fret or despair over the circumstances of your life, you’ll appreciate how much you have going for you compared to your ancestors. You’ll see that your life is rather like the tip of the spear, the farthest trajectory in your family story, and that you are living in a brave new world your ancestors could never have dreamed possible for their progeny.