|My grandmother, who would have loved|
to learn about all my discoveries
of our tree.
I know some people struggle to understand how the lives of people I never met (or anyone else that I knew had ever met) could be a part of my self identity so I'll attempt to explain. I started researching my ancestry not long after I moved to the UK to live with my English husband. I discovered that I had an English branch of my tree which came from an area only about a 45 minute drive from where I was living in England! There are many things about England (especially the north of England) which I have fallen in love with (not in the least of all, my husband) and so I started to feel an emotional tie to my English ancestors because I feel I understand and love their culture. Of course it's changed a lot since they lived here but after living here for 7 years myself, England has become a part of my self identity and that allows me to identify with English ancestors.
|Old Mennonite Meeting House|
in Germantown, Philadelphia.
Part of my family history, part of
On the other hand, it can be easier to identify with more recent immigrants. My paternal grandmother, known to our family as Nan, though born in America, was 100% Italian with six siblings. For me, growing up in this family with so many Italian-American aunts, uncles, and cousins was a large part of my life. Nan's father had immigrated in the early 20th century when he was a teenager and though I never met him (he died before I was born), I grew up hearing stories about him and it was obvious how much my big-fat-Italian-family had respected and admired him. I wish I could have known him but the more I learn about him through my research, the more I feel like I did know him. Genealogy doesn't have to be about going back to the 17th century and learning about people who are so far removed from your world that it doesn't feel like there's any connection. Genealogy can be about your parents, your grandparents, or your great grandparents. It can be about the people who, if not a part of your immediate world, were probably a big part of the lives of the people who you do know and love. They are a part of your self identity, if not directly, then through the influences of others. Each generation is like a bridge, linking the generations on either side of them together, even if they were never linked in life.
|My great grandparents, who I never met but almost feel|
I have, through family stories and research.
The final reason I research my family tree is to honor the memories of my ancestors. Again, one might ask "why bother, if you never knew them?" Well, that's exactly why I do it. It really depresses me to consider that when I'm gone, and when everyone who knew and loved me is gone too, I will be completely forgotten to history, as though my life meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. I am an average person, I accept that I am probably not going to wind up doing anything so important as to get my name in a history book, but what I have difficulty accepting is that eventually I will be entirely forgotten, even to my descendants. And most of my ancestors were the same, they were average people just like me - but they laughed, they cried, they loved, they got angry. That is perhaps the biggest reason I do this, so that the lives of my ancestors won't be forgotten this way. Just because they may not have been famous doesn't mean their lives were meaningless because if they were, then mine is too and I don't believe that.
Perhaps some people still just don't get why I love it so much, maybe it's just different strokes for different folks, but those are my reasons. What are yours? Why do you spend all this time, energy, and money on this particular hobby?