Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Would Someone Want to Do All That?

When we think of hobbies, we think of fun things to do with free time. Genealogy can be a lot of work, granted. But for some strange reason, that doesn’t disqualify it from having a hearty following of enthusiasts.

So who would want to pursue their family history? Many people with many reasons.

Of course, I’ve already mentioned the group I’m in: people who just always have wanted to know. They can’t explain it: it was love at first sight.

New moms and dads form another group. There is just something about thinking of that babe-to-come that turns minds and hearts back to parents, grandparents, and those mysterious others in a long line of those who have gone before. It’s ironic, but the new sparks an interest in the old.

Which points to a corollary of that: grandparents. Something about being a newly-minted grandparent acts like the Blarney Stone of the gift of genealogical gab. Grandparents want to tell their story, and to have it passed down to future generations. They want those precious babies to know about their forebears!

A sadder impetus to research happens to reveal itself in the aftermath of losing a loved one. I’ve had friends and relatives ask me questions about family research a few weeks after a funeral—usually when they start that tedious process of sifting through all the belongings of the dear departed one. Old photos, letters, and diaries prompt memories—and questions. Those left behind are left wondering sometimes—I know my dad’s family was, with the mysteries we are still trying to uncover. It’s always better to ask all those questions before losing our precious links to family heritage, but sometimes it is just not possible.

Another prompt to starting research comes from a more unexpected route: a school assignment in grade school or even high school. That’s what started a cousin of mine down the path of asking questions of older relatives. Some of her teenage discoveries were the only link I had to the mysteries of our family’s arrival as immigrants in 1880s America. While younger students aren’t necessarily equipped with the persistence and patience required of serious researchers, their initial discoveries may whet their appetite for revisiting the hobby in later years. In the meantime, personal family history is a great lens through which to gain perspective on major events in world and national history.

There are probably as many stories of “why I got started” as there are family researchers. But they all go back to that initial kernel: the need—the desire—to know where we came from.

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