“Trees without roots fall over.”—anonymous
My husband isn’t interested in genealogy. He tries hard—but if I go on about it for more than a minute or two, his eyes glaze over. It seems that people are either very interested in genealogy, or not interested at all. For those who are—but who are not natural-born researchers equipped with mad computer skills, endless hours at their disposal to learn the tricks of the trade, and $300 to spend on a subscription to ancestry.com—and if no one in the family has done the work, or if they had, it’s in a dusty old folder and it’s impossible to figure out, let alone enjoy—why pay someone to research one’s family history?
First: To honor those who came before.
My ancestors were a mixture of heroes and black sheep and ordinary people. But I don’t want any of their stories to be lost. The matriarchs and patriarchs, the babies who died, and all those in the middle—they were real people, and their blood runs through my veins.
Second: To preserve your family story for those who will come after.
Interest in genealogy seems to skip a generation in some families. I sent ancestry binders to nine of my cousins for Christmas a few years ago. One cousin didn’t even acknowledge receiving it—but I later heard that his daughter thought it was the best thing ever. You just never know.
Third: To understand yourself better.
Are your children anything like you? Are you anything like your parents? Blood really is thicker than water, and when you look at your family’s past, you might be surprised at what looks back at you. A few years ago I went to Sweden, and as I looked around, I realized that the men all looked like my father! But you don’t have to cross an ocean to have those moments. A photo, a story, a surprising discovery about an ancestor’s life, can make you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself.
Fourth: To bring family together through their shared history.
Some of my best interactions with my cousins and aunts have been over genealogy. They may not all be interested in everyone or everything, but most of them are interested in someone or something! And I’m surprised how often they have something to share—a story, a document, a photo, a family artifact, or a question that puts me on a whole new path of research. And for the elderly suffering from memory loss, the memories from long ago are the last to fade. They may not remember their grandchildren’s names, but they remember their grandparents’ names.
If you have always wondered about your roots, then remember this: The longer you wait, as your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and parents pass away (and their belongings are scattered), the more of your history will fade into the mist. Find out what you can from those who are still alive. Look around your house or theirs and see what has survived. And take that step—what do you have to lose?