Why history in genealogy
In order to understand the lives of our ancestors it is vital that we attempt to remove ourselves from our own reality and travel back into the time in which they each lived. This is, at best, a difficult process but it is one that is facilitated by the development of an understanding of the political and social events surrounding our ancestors as well as a familiarity with the workings of their daily lives. We can learn, for example, how the average family of similar position and means within the same time frame lived and worked.
We can look to recorded history, surviving documents and journals, and other resources to develop a picture of an average life. What did our ancestors eat, wear? How did they travel? What were their lives like? Did they live like everyone else of the time and place, or were they different? Did their particular circumstances forge a difference that was observable? How were they unique? What made them stand out from the surrounding population, or did they?
Researching the genealogy of a family entails more than just looking through musty volumes in search of some snippet of documentary proof that an ancestor existed. It is more than recording the birth, marriage and death dates alongside some obscured name from some half forgotten time or place. It is a magical voyage of discovery that transports one from the rigors of the mundane concerns we embrace and call our lives, into an uncertain reality. It is a reality that is hidden from our fullest understanding, yet exposed in stark facts recorded over time.
The genealogist is a time traveler. They are transported into the past with each new discovery until they become voyeurs into the lives of those ancient mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. They dig through the dust and ashes to find details of lives lived without thought of intrusion from future observers. We read personal letters left behind in old trunks. We decipher conflicting dates and discover forgotten public records that may, at times, be less than favorable to the individual. Yet, we push, prod and document.
A word here, a phrase there, a found treasure that reveals a new connection that heretofore was but a vague suspicion. Through it all there is an underlying need to understand; to place the name upon a deserving individual, a person with feelings, ambitions, and failings that we can understand and associate with our own. There is a need to understand why. Why did our ancestors leave everything behind to come to a new country, where they had nothing and knew no one? Why did our great-great-grandparents decide to settle in an area that what largely a wilderness rather than embracing a growing urban settlement where work was available, if not plentiful? These are questions that plague us as we delve deeper into the mysteries of the past in what usually becomes a never-ending quest for answers.
Looking back to those early days of beginning my research, I would not have imagined I could spend twenty years digging through papers, photos, old letters and archives in an attempt to find people I could never really know. I would not have believed, had someone told me, that I would devote hundreds of hours to categorizing, cataloguing, and compiling facts and notes from obscure sources or plentiful family documents and letters in an attempt to piece together a family album of images and personalities. I recall an incident that occurred in a library’s back room years ago. I was deep into deciphering some passenger lists in an attempt to locate some ancestor when the lady sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder. “You are awfully young, dear, to be spending so much time digging up old people” she said.
We both laughed and I told her that I had started early so that I could get done and then I would be able to spend my declining years traveling. She laughed and smiled, a funny knowing sort of smile. “Sure dear” she replied before turning back to her stack of papers. At the time I didn’t understand. Now I think I do. I can see the almost addictive quality of this undertaking. In the lulls between discoveries I find I now seek history books. The need to uncover the history surrounding all those faceless names and long ago families has become almost as consuming as the need to find just one more connection, one more generation, one more person. And for some elusive reason it is impossible to walk away and call it done.
on 2007-06-03 14:40:49
Climb Your Tree to Uncover Your Roots. Find helpful resources, conduct a search, enter the forums, or just hang out and read interesting historic accounts and watch vintage videos. Resources and info at http://familygenealogy.us and my photo gallery at http://Caglegenealogyonline.com has what you want. Get my article feed to stay up to date.