By Janet Curley
Thank you to everyone who participated in my poll this past week. The most selected answer so far is “I bring my family history to future generations”, followed closely by “I see my place in history” . I wrote this post before implementing the poll and will share it with you now. The poll is still open, so fee free to participate if you haven’t already!
The other day my career coach asked me an obvious yet important question. Why is genealogy meaningful to me? It was a different question than why I enjoy doing genealogy. I love the thrill of the hunt and the mysteries that keep evolving. I love finding that piece of evidence that opens up the next door of exploration. That answer is easy.
I admit I was a bit stumped by this question. I came up with the notion of feeling connected – to my family, my community, to history, etc. All true, but a bit flimsy really. Why is genealogy meaningful to anyone? Who cares what happened to our ancestors, dead and gone? Many people want to pass along their family history to their children so they will know where they came from and hopefully pass it along to the generations that follow. I don’t have children, so it is not about giving this gift to them.
Perhaps it is precisely because I don’t have children that it is meaningful to me. I feel I owe my ancestors my own remembrance of them. There won’t be anyone who will ask much about them when I am gone. Having the tree and learning their stories are ways I can honor them. It may be a way I am also remembered. Maybe this is why maiden aunts in our families are often the family historians. Some people contribute to the future with children, some with knowledge of the past and some overachievers do both!
In every tree, there are people who are largely forgotten in time. Their lives and life lessons are no longer available to us. And yet their lessons do come down to us by our parents and grandparents. One way or another they pass those lessons along. How they came to those lessons is the mystery. Finding the context of their lives can often illuminate how our families come to be the way they are. Sometimes it can change how we view our own identity. When watching the show on TV – “Who do you think you are?”, it is fascinating to me to watch these celebrities come to a different notion of who they are based on the life or lives of ancestors from over one hundred years ago. You can see them try to absorb the new information. And what do they all do? They return home with their new family stories and begin to tell the rest of the clan. Some stories resonate with long forgotten truths. Some are welcomed and some are resisted. And each member takes something different with them as a result.
I know my identity now has shifted since I started this journey. I feel much more grounded in the history of my home town and Ireland. Just ask my partner how much Irish stuff has mushroomed in the house over the past couple of years. It is about feeling more connected, but also not as simplistic as that. Genealogy is meaningful to me because of what it teaches me about myself. What is handed down to me and why? And what has manifested itself in me from generations past?
Thanks to Val for asking me the question and to all of you for joining me in thinking about the answer.