Thursday, March 21, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 12): 12

12 Reasons Why I Love Genealogy and Family History

I am an occasional list maker, and this topic ("12") lends itself to just that.  Oh, genealogy and family history, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways... there are at least twelve!

1.  Perpetual Learning

Family history has opened up various avenues for creativity and study.  There are endless learning possibilities, whether it is keeping abreast of ever-changing software, databases and other resources, or honing computer and research skills, in general.  Wanting to know more caused me to enroll in a year-long Genealogy and Family History certificate program at the University of Washington.  It also led to participation in three years of seminars dealing with history writing and research methods.  I continue to learn from my own investigations, and from conferences, online sources, and also friends involved with genealogy who provide inspiration and comraderie.

2.  Building Expertise

Perpetual learning associated with genealogy naturally leads to increased knowledge.  Through this process I have become more organized in my research, improved my writing skills, gained experience in both publishing and self-publishing, and have even given presentations at a few different venues (who woulda thunk it?)

3.  Thrill of the Hunt

Anyone who is truly passionate about family history is familiar with the "happy dance" that occurs inside (and sometimes manifests itself physically), whenever a tempting tidbit of information is finally located.  The results are even better if you have had to chew on a mystery for some time, and wait patiently for further inspiration or a chance detail to present itself from somewhere in the ether.  Solving problems in genealogy is like the best Easter egg hunt ever!  Or, wait... maybe it is more like finally discovering what Santa has left you on Christmas?

4.  Answering My Own Questions

I began genealogy research at about the time I completed a long-desired college degree.  A first trip back to my mother's childhood home in Minnesota combined with suddenly having "spare time" no longer needed for studying, propelled me into the wonderful world of family history.  There were questions for which the answer was not readily available, such as:  what was Great-Grandpa's Norwegian name, and where in Norway did he come from?  When I purchased my first computer and acquired a few initial answers from a cousin, the gong sounded. The journey to discover my origins had begun.

5.  A Sense of Connection

Little did I realize how profound the sense of connection with my ancestors would turn out to be as I began discovering their personal histories.  Some of the information available was more than I ever would have expected, while some remained frustratingly sparse or out-of-reach.  But, overall, the experience of genealogy research has provided me with a bigger picture that gives not only perspective but added meaning to my life.

6.  Discovering Social History

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and experience an era for yourself?  I mean, taking it a step beyond admiring those vintage photographs or drawings and the curious fashions and hairstyles.  Studying the customs and events that your ancestors lived through, when combined with the details of their personal lives, is as close to entering a Time Tunnel that you will experience.  Researching social history has helped me to understand why my ancestors engaged in certain activities (like relocating or changing jobs), and offers a broader perspective on the actions of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

7.  Satisfying a "Need for People"

As an introvert, genealogy fits right in with my need for a solitary sort of a hobby.  I can go as slowly as I like, or run in wild abandon, and I don't have to worry too much about pleasing anyone but myself.  According to the Myers-Briggs personality assessment (which I have taken three times), I am an INFJ type (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Judging).  Experts say that this is the rarest of sixteen personality types, making up less than one percent of the population.  The short story is that while I am a tried and true introvert, I need people more than other introverted types.  But, that need is specifically for meaningful relationships, as opposed to just social contact.  I value close friendships, family, and a sense of belonging most highly...  I love being married, for example, but I hate the dating scene.  Researching family history provides a similar but equally valuable connection with others that I can access any time I wish.

8.  Appreciating the Past

When I was in the seventh grade, if someone had told me that I would one day major in history in college, I would have laughed.  History???  Only the most boring class ever... full of meaningless dates and details to memorize.  Boy, was I wrong.  It took genealogy to help me see the light, and I did indeed get my degree in history.  Thanks to the personalization that family history has brought to the larger topic, I now have an appreciation of the past in a way I never could have imagined as a school girl.

9.  Understanding Human Nature

Everyone has secrets, and in today's high tech world with DNA tests offering few hiding places, it becomes more likely that certain secrets will no longer stay in the shadows.  When interpreting the actions of those who are no longer alive to defend themselves, we must tread carefully.  By studying the social, cultural, and even family expectations of the times, it is easier to determine possible reasons for behaviors and events.  Human nature is complicated, and extenuating circumstances are almost always involved.  I appreciate how studying family history has encouraged me to think on broader terms and enabled me to avoid putting someone "in a box" as far as expectations go.

10. Preserving Stories

I love biography, and fortunately, I love to write.  As I uncover the bits and pieces of my family's history, I can think of nothing better than to give new life to nearly forgotten stories.  Through compiled data, social history, photograph identification, oral history, and other methods, I try to build an unbiased and mostly accurate impression of someone's experiences.  Each life contains a library of information and inspiration just waiting to be rediscovered!

11. Making Connections

If you blog it, they will come.  It's true!  I have met many cousins thanks to my family history blog, a dedicated Facebook group, and my online trees--many more than through DNA results alone.  If someone is searching for information on a particular family member that I happen to have written about, I inevitably get contacted.  It is always nice to meet family, whether virtually or otherwise.

 12. Sharing With and Helping Others

I have never understood why some people will go to the trouble of creating an extensive family tree on, for example, and then keep the information private.  Knowledge is for sharing--spread the love!  I am more than happy to share or discuss information with interested parties if asked.  All I want is to be given proper acknowledgment and have copyright concerns respected (especially when it comes to photographs) if material I provide is used elsewhere.  If we could search into the past far enough, we would find that we are all cousins.  What a lovely thought.  Why not help each other toward the same goals?

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