Why Do Genealogy? (part 2)

Introduction: In this article, the second of two parts, Jessica Edwards looks back at her many years exploring her family history and explains why she loves genealogy. Jessica has had a lifelong interest in her family’s history – especially on her father’s side, which goes back to the first settlers in Pennsylvania, Jamestown and New England – and has documented and added more than 30,400 people to her family tree!

Some people love to solve mysteries, and genealogy is an ongoing one. Just when you think you’ve found all the documentation and understand someone’s biography, there’s another waiting for you to tackle. Each document you uncover is like finding a new piece to the large jigsaw puzzle of your life and your family. Some of these pieces may be missing at one point – but then something occurs (sometimes days, weeks, or even years later) that allows you to find that elusive missing piece that helps you to see a larger scene.

Photo: vintage family photos on a wooden background.
Photo: vintage family photos on a wooden background.

Photo credit: https://depositphotos.com/home.html

(1) Others, like myself, are either trained historians or just history buffs, and genealogy brings the past to life. One of the many people in my family tree appeared in a newspaper article about the death of both her and her infant son hours apart from what we call the “Spanish Flu.” In reading the article, I discovered a young daughter had also died two days earlier from the same thing, and the community came together to donate different cemetery plots so that the family members could be laid to rest (first the daughter in one, then, a few days later, the mother and son in another).

The article mentioned that one brother of the deceased mother could not attend her funeral, as he had just returned to basic training a few days before the daughter’s death, and he was in one of the hardest-hit areas that was thought to be the origination of the epidemic!

In other newspaper research, I discovered that another relative of mine was sent to an insane asylum, but died within a year – along with more than 46 others – from being poisoned accidentally because a can of rat poison was used instead of powdered milk.

(2) I like to prove or disprove common stories in my family, and doing research and then documenting where my information came from allows others to “follow in my footsteps” and see if they come to the same conclusion(s). When I started doing genealogy, I automatically imported other people’s trees that appeared to match with someone in my tree – only to later find out they had done the same thing, and so on going back. Everyone had missed inconsistencies or ignored them instead of proving that this person really was the person they were searching for (my mentor deleted the massive tree and had me start again and drilled into me the need for documentation and proof before adding someone to the tree – thank you, Susan!).

(3) Suddenly finding missing pieces in your family history also provides an endorphin rush (like the shopper finding a fantastic sale), which is a physical reward in doing genealogy.

(4) Time is put into perspective when you do genealogy. In doing my own tree I suddenly realized what the life spans of my relatives were and how much I wanted to accomplish yet (most of my relatives didn’t surpass age 65, and I am 64).

(5) Genealogy has also allowed me to put into perspective all the things that have been discovered or invented within the lifespans of each of the generations. Just think of all the diseases they now have cures for that took millions of lives over the years, changes in modes of transportation, improved access to food for millions of people, etc. (Just watch some of these reality shows that send “modern people” to live in a situation experienced by prior generations to see how lucky we really are to live now – as our descendants will look at our lives and shake their heads over the changes that have come since our time).

(6) We can get a glimpse of just how oppressed our ancestors’ lives may have been because of the ruling body where they were living, and other reasons that brought them to the United States.

(7) Some people who don’t “feel a connection” to the rest of the family (sometimes because they were adopted, or because of what emotional security they had in their lives growing up, or even whether they moved a lot as a child and/or as an adult). Genealogy may finally allow them to feel connected and to be a real family member. I have learned that several of my cousins have had children that they gave up for adoption over the years. These days, with many adoption records being opened, and the growing use of DNA testing, many adoptees are able to discover previously unknown family. This need to truly understand what and who came before is an important part of people’s lives. It may allow you to feel “more in control” of your own life, which increases your self-esteem and helps you become more successful.

(8) Some people say that they do genealogy because they want to “remember and honor their ancestors/parents,” as suggested or advised by some religions.

(9) One of my friends and his physician worked together on my friend’s genealogy tree because the physician noticed that almost all of the family suffered from having forms of osteogenesis imperfecta (what some people call the brittle bone disease). They traced the family and reported accounts of any that might have had it, and they found several places where the two merged – so they may have found the source for the disease, thereby helping find the links to look for in their family trees.

(10) Some young people may be interested in the physical descriptions of their ancestors as it might give them an idea of what future children may look like. I have looked at photographs of many of my direct ancestors, and the only commonality with me with a number of them is my height – whereas my brother is the spitting image of a great uncle whose photo was shown to us.

(11) Lastly, I was never blessed with children myself. There’s an old adage that says, “As long as we remember a person, they’re not really gone. Their thoughts, their feelings, their memories, they become a part of us.” My genealogy will allow me to live on and be my legacy.

In closing, the underlying reason for doing genealogy is captured in a quote from some unknown source that says, “Without the past there is no present, nor can we build a future.” So, my suggestions are: explore your past, cherish your present, and build the best future possible.

Happy Hunting!

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Note on the header image: old photos and correspondence. Credit: https://depositphotos.com/home.html

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