Orignally published on LinkedIn.
The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero understood the importance of how lives of the present are linked to those of the past. More than a half-century before the birth of Christ, Cicero wrote, “For what is the worth of a human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” His rhetorical question continues to hold meaning after two millennia, as Americans of all ages take to the internet to research their family trees.
A few years ago, ABC News referred to genealogy as “the preferred pastime of shut-ins, spinsters and confirmed bachelors.” USA Today has referred to family history as a hobby traditionally championed by “persnickety elites.” Perhaps those harsh characterizations were once true, but no more. Family history has gone mainstream. It’s no longer just a fad or a sometimes hobby. It has grown into a movement, followed by millions who seek to learn from whence they came.
The reasons family members start researching their lineage are as varied as the people themselves. I propose six very solid reasons why active study of your genealogy is worth your time and attention.
It’s Your Identity — Heritage is part of who you are. One of the most basic questions a person can ask is, “Who am I, and why am I here?” While faith can answer a big part of that equation, genealogy holds the rest. The intricate web of people, places and events that led to each of us being here is a fascinating thing to study. It can help define and explain family character. It sheds light on genetics and medical history. It can uncover the stories of tragedy, heroic sacrifice and triumph.
It Brings Families Together — Shared between the generations, genealogy strengthens family bonds and brings people closer. A visit to an old cemetery on Memorial Day can show children how their ancestors sacrificed for them. Sifting through old photographs to identify places and faces is a great family project. Children can interview parents, grandparents and other kin as part of an oral history project.
It Expands the Family Network — Research will inevitably put you into contact with distant relatives with whom you’ve lost contact, or didn’t even know existed. Your shared past forms the foundation for what could be an extended family network. This can be valuable beyond the genealogy project itself. These new extended family make good business and social contacts.
It Puts Legend to the Test — Done properly, genealogy applies a proof standard to family history. This ultimately means some long-held legends will be debunked as just that: fiction. Other stories will be confirmed and even strengthened with details, records and photographs. How much richer family traditions become when they are based on solid, provable research.
It Preserves Culture — When you trace your roots back to the “old country” (wherever that may be), it opens a world of culture that otherwise could be lost. Perhaps there was a Christmas dinner celebration that was carried for centuries. Or a particular crop that was farmed and made into ethnic dishes. Learning regional languages such as Plattdeutsch (low German) can help in translating old documents. Culture is a powerful connector that can spark new interest in the young.
It Establishes Legacy — Family history is always a work in progress, but once underway it provides a legacy you can leave to your children and grandchildren. This is a most powerful and valuable gift. Most of us will not be known in the history books for grand inventions or wild wealth, but we all have fascinating stories in our past. These stories hold meaning as shared history. Future generations will add to the wealth.
This is a great time to start genealogy. A booming industry has grown around this search for identity. Billions of records are available online, on free web sites such as The U.S. GenWeb Project and FamilySearch.org, and through popular subscription services like Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com. Ancestry alone has more than 16 billion searchable online records, and adds some 2 million more each day. Databases such as FindAGrave.com have more than 135 million burial records, many with tombstone photos and transcribed obituaries. You can get started on your own, or get some assistance from a growing marketplace of professional genealogists.
Don’t believe the scoffers who downplay genealogy. It’s much more than you might think. Family business is important business; well worth your time and effort to explore.
©2016 Treasured Lives