Sometimes I am asked, or I may overhear others asked, “Why are you interested in genealogy?” It is a very good question. What happened a 100 years or more has very little to do with the decisions you make on a day-to-day basis now. Or does it? Let me give you a few good reasons that the study of genealogy matters.
- Knowledge accumulates.“There is nothing new under the sun.” said the wise writer of the book of Ecclesiastes. This is true, but what we can know about what is under the sun increases daily. Are not hydrogen-powered cars simply a string of improvements on the chariot? Our ancestors learned lessons about life that we will not have to learn the hard way if we are smart enough to understand their responses to problems.Perhaps your ancestor who lived through the Great Depression learned a little bit about living within their means and avoiding credit. Maybe your Great Aunt Martha learned why its important for even a young man to have a substantial life insurance policy after her husband died of pneumonia at age 26. Maybe you can learn, as your grandfather did, that sometimes it’s better to take your loses and move on. Your grandfather thought he could make his Oklahoma farm work during the dust bowl years while all his neighbors moved on to California and became prosperous.
- Our family history puts general history in context. Knowing that my great-great grandfather fought in the Civil War, makes me more curious about the Civil War. Did he own slaves? Why did he fight with the Union Army while everyone else from his community joined the Confederates? What rights should states have to decide questions of morality and what rights should a federal government decide? Discovering what my ancestor, rightly or wrongly, thought about these things informs my thoughts.
- Our ancestors are, in part, responsible for who we become.Each of us are an amalgam of those who came before us. Our talents and abilities, our looks and physical features, and our susceptibility to certain diseases are encoded into our DNA. Knowing that my great uncle Sid, was a noted mechanical engineer may awaken latent engineering talents that I never knew I had. If I know that eight male relatives died of heart attacks under the age of 60, I may decide to skip the cheesecake and run a couple extra laps instead.
- If you don’t remember them, who will? Over time, the people who knew your ancestors pass into eternity. Unless your ancestor was famous, he probably will simply fade from the collective memory of humanity. It is a preventable tragedy for this to happen to our ancestors. We honor them when we keep their memory alive.
This is just a brief list of reasons someone may want to study their ancestors. I must admit none of these prompted me to first start studying genealogy. My reason was simple curiosity. I wanted to know what kind of stock it was from which I came. Once I had made a few interesting discoveries, I had another reason. This is a whole lot of fun! But having a list of intelligent sounding reasons for doing family research gives you an opportunity to sound like a reasonable person the next time you are asked that inevitable question. Give me your best reasons for studying your ancestry in the comments below.