Saturday, November 25, 2017

Wondering Why

Have you ever questioned why a person might want to do genealogical research? I mean, why do we do this? Is there a basic human need to know something more about our roots?

While I realize some people pursue the details of their family history because it facilitates a religious objective, that is certainly not why all people are curious about their family origins. I'm not even sure it's on account of the American penchant for ferreting out the sources of their "Heinz 57" heritage; obviously, there are people around the world who would like to know more about their family's story.

This type of question can turn into something of a dialog with our inner five year old. After all, the reason I want to know about my roots is because my father's paternal line is an absolute mystery, a blank slate taunting me to fill in the lines. But my inner five year old insists: "Why?"

Why do I need to fill in those empty lines on the pedigree chart, indeed? Because I'm hoping it will draw me closer to the answer to the question about my paternal grandfather's origin.

But that inner five year old persists: "Why?"

Yes, why do I need to know where the man came from? I suppose I could go on and play the game, dredging up yet another answer to rationalize just why I do this crazy chase, seeking hints the past has hidden in oblivion—but I know I'll only be faced with another question: "Why?"

I guess I'm not really sure why I feel so compelled to find and document my family's past. Perhaps if you were to play the "why" game with your own inner five year old, you might arrive at a more solid conclusion. But perhaps you wouldn't. The spooky thing might be that there is no rational answer, other than "I just do."

Perhaps in the grand, cosmic sense of things, there is a motivating factor inducing some of us to serve as our own family's historian. Who knows. Perhaps knowing the answer people are likely to give might help guide organizations like local genealogical societies to more successfully plan programs to attract a larger audience. Or could that be a bit too pragmatic a viewpoint for something with an answer as ethereal as this?

Above: Untitled painting by Italian artist Francesco Peluso, born 1836, courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Why not? I think I dabble at it because I am not sure anyone else will. I like the thrill of discovery makes me feel like an explorer! :0

    1. I think, for a lot of genealogists, they have discovered how the search awakens their inner detective--and they like that thrill of the hunt.

      Actually, Far Side, you bring up two good points, because another impetus is the concern you mentioned: that if I don't do it, no one else will, and our family's story will be lost to history.

      I wonder if there are certain common threads that run amongst us all in the set of reasons why we engage in genealogical research. No matter what surnames we seek, or places where we look for family, we may have more in common with other researchers than we may have thought.


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