I’ve always been something of an “old soul.” A history buff my entire life, my hobbies and interests often fell along the fringes of what most of my peers might consider normal. Even in my twenties, I rarely stayed out late with friends, but I distinctly remember once staying up till 3 am to finish a documentary on Abraham Lincoln. That said, it is little wonder that I am attracted to the world of genealogy. It speaks my language. Still, whenever I am researching at the Family History Library or otherwise surrounded by fellow genealogists, I can’t help but be struck by the overwhelming majority of the retirement age demographic and the significant absence of a younger crowd. It baffles me that more people of all ages aren’t clamoring to research their roots. I can only conclude that most people simply don’t know what they are missing. Here are 5 reasons why I study genealogy and think you should too.
1. Genealogists solve real-life mysteries. Do you love a good mystery? If yes, you likely won’t have to delve too deeply into your family history before you are testing your own detective skills. The answer to the question may not have earth shattering consequences (though be prepared in case. . . family secrets, anyone?) but nothing beats the thrill once you finally solve that mystery.
2. Genealogy tells history’s REAL stories. We all (hopefully) learn history in school, right? But it almost always generalizes the feelings of the masses (i.e. The South was for states rights) or tells the stories of a select few (i.e. Washington stepped down from office after two terms). That’s all fine and good, but it gives only a glimpse of what history was like for the common people. It’s our ancestors who truly lived history, and it would be a shame if their experiences were forgotten. Many of my ancestors made great sacrifices for their families, their communities, their countries. Their names will never appear in any history book. I cannot change the past for them, but I can tell their stories and remember their sacrifices.
3. Genealogy brings families together. Sometimes making time for our relatives, particularly our older relatives, seems difficult in the midst of our busy lives. It is not that we don’t love our families, but sometimes it feels like a duty, one more task to check off. The solution: Interview your relatives about your family history. In almost every instance (assuming the interviewer is tactful and sensitive) the interviewee is more than happy to share and appreciates that someone cares enough to ask. The interviewer gleans priceless stories and information that might otherwise have been lost. You’ll be surprised how fast the time goes.
4. Genealogy could save your life. . . literally. Science tells us that much of our health depends upon our genetics. Learning your family health history through genealogy can give you valuable insight into decisions regarding disease prevention and early detection.
5. Their loved ones would want us to remember. Many genealogists hold to the belief that our ancestors would want us to remember them. I think this is probably true. Yet, I can say almost with certainty that everybody holds somebody else’s memory to close to their heart, whether a grandparent, a parent, a sibling, a child or friend. Sadly, we are in danger of losing these memories with the passing of each generation, and that is truly tragic. We should do our part to keep the memory of those who have already lived their time on earth alive, not only for their sake, but also for the people who loved them.