Sunday, May 21, 2023

Genealogy: It's a Journey


The other day, I ran across another genealogy blogger's comment regarding how long she had been researching her family history. It was an impressively long time.

Not that others haven't been pursuing their roots as long. It's just that, when you do something day in and day out—especially when you are the type of researcher who really should set a timer to remind you to turn out the lights (and the computer) at a reasonable hour—the time seems to slip by unnoticed. So do the days. And years.

The first year I began blogging, I had plenty of stories to share—stories stored up over years of listening to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The first task was to verify and preserve all that I had been told was so, as far as family history was concerned.

Once that initial pathway was laid out for all to follow, the research journey stretched beyond to family history frontiers. As the familiar stories faded into the background, so did the usual document trail. Census records enumerating every name in the family retracted the spread of information to mere head counts and generalities. Identities became harder to find. Perhaps it was a prevalence of privacy, or a place where it was permissible for anyone to change a name and become a stranger just passing through—but to where? From where?

Documenting that research progress has changed, too. Not that families from hundreds of years ago didn't have stories to tell; it's just that finding those stories becomes more of a challenge. But when I do discover them, the journey's path becomes like stumbling upon an unexpected gold mine.

And yet, for all the searching, for all the seeking of the truth behind the question—who are we, really?—the deepest dive in this genealogy journey starts when we look into ourselves, look into the historical record entrapped in our very cells, our DNA. Once again, we can find treasures of our family's stories, if only we know how to look.

From the first step—placing our name on square one of a pedigree chart—to the nth degree of great-greats, researching our family's genealogy is a journey with twists and turns, uphill, downhill, full of roadblocks and unexpected outcomes. Somehow, though, there is something bidding us to keep on going, one more generation, one more family story.

Perhaps that makes genealogy a quest without a destination, a journey for the journey's sake alone—a choice to let ourselves be satisfied with the process of continual discovery in all its shifting shapes and forms. The journey doesn't simply demand that we learn to repeat the same processes unchanged, year after year; the journey brings surprise and change, keeping us on our toes in preparation for the next unexpected discovery. As we uncover each generation of our family's story, the process moves us forward in our ability to meet the challenge of learning additional research skills, of discovering the nuances which shaped the day-to-day life of ancestors removed even farther from our own lifetime, from our own familiar home.

Whether one year, ten years, twenty years, or fifty, as long as there is more to discover, those who love the journey discover it's not simply a pursuit of a destination. Perhaps, despite the pileup of all those years, that's why they stay on the path.


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