Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

May 24, 2021

Why Do We Do Genealogy?


I wrote this blog post almost 10 years ago. It still holds true and I decided it was worth sharing again.

A friend asked an interesting question. "Why do you do genealogy?" she asked. Sounds like a simple question doesn't it. And the answer should be simple - "I do genealogy because...."

But guess what? It's not simple. The reasons I currently "do genealogy" are not the same reasons I would have given 20 or 30 years ago. When I began my genealogy quest at a very young age, it was because my father had expressed such curiousity about our Irish McGinnis origins. He died when I was 14 and I made a vow after his death to find out about our McGinnis ancestors for him. In his memory. So my answer to that question, had it been asked, those many years ago, would have been simple. "I do genealogy because I want to find my McGinnis ancestors for my father."

That isn't my main reason anymore. I've grown. This has been a journey - still is a journey, and as on any journey, my needs and desires and goals along the way have changed. For example I've discovered that I can't let a mystery lie without digging into it. I need to find answers. So my answer to that question now would be

"I do genealogy for many reasons. One is my curiousity about my ancestors - who were they, what were they like, what experiences did they live through. My love of history is part of the reason I do genealogy. My desire to solve mysteries is a huge part of my passion for genealogy. And I do genealogy because I want my children and grandchildren to know and recognize the individuals over the centuries whose lives helped make us who we are today."
Genealogy isn't a pursuit well suited for those who require instant gratification. It's a long-term process and seems incredibly boring and tedious to those who are not like-minded. I've spent more hours scrolling through microfilm searching for that one entry with an ancestor's name, then I care to remember. Many people would consider those wasted hours. I don't.

Some of my family are not the least bit interested in our ancestors. Some are interested to a degree. Tell them stories of the more interesting or outrageous ancestors such as our daredevil Peer ancestor who walked Niagara Falls on a tightrope and they listen. Tell them about great great grandpa, the farmer in England, and their eyes glaze over.

I once had a friend say to me "But why do you care? They're all dead!" and yet another said "They're not really your ancestors if they're dead." Hmmm... I can't quite get my head around that mindset!

Some are not interested in the treasured photos of ancestors. To me those are the icing on the cake! They make my ancestor "real" for me. One of my relatives told me she wasn't interested in seeing a photo of our 2nd great-grandfather. Why wasn't she interested? Because, she said "Why do I care what he looked like? I never knew him."

To me that's kind of the point. A photo allows us to "know" our ancestors. With a photo I can study faces and ponder over whether or not great-grandma's nose isn't just like one of my granddaughters.  I can imagine the ancestors in those photos living their daily lives, just as we do today. And I feel a connection to those people.

How about you? How would you answer my friend's question, "Why do you do genealogy?"


Donna D said...

I started doing my birth search. This got me hooked on finding out who, what and where for both my families. Knowing people’s history helps us understand who they were and then, who we are

Anonymous said...

When someone asks, I just tell them I find it interesting. I don't feel like I should be obligated to justify why I enjoy this hobby.

Lise said...

…because I can’t help myself! Seriously. I seem particularly compelled to find those who have no descendants to find, preserve and share their stories - the maiden aunts and childless couples and children who were born and died between census years.

KSteckelberg said...

A great-great aunt I was lucky enough to know wrote a brief memoir and family history entitled “Of This Stuff We Are Made.” I always thought that summed up nicely why I do genealogy.

Charles C Andrews said...

I feel sorry for those who are ambivalent about genealogy and their ancestors. Living only in the present is shallow and selfish; we all need an understanding and appreciation for those who have gone before. Thank you for your blog.

Linda said...

KSteckelberg - love that comment.
I do genealogy because I am curious about those who came before. A family recipe book got me started in the early 1980's. And I have found out so much about various branches of my family, especially from newspapers. Events and people that even my parents knew nothing about. It is fascinating.
Linda Johnson

Kathleen from Canada said...

I do genealogy because every piece of me, was a piece of someone else before and I want to know them. I love the sleuthing, finding the truths and the precious stories that have been lost through the generations. I have certainly seen the glassed over looks from people who do not understand my passion, that's ok. I am not sure I quite understand the love of watching sports :)