RootsTech 2014

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The heart and soul of genealogy

I grew up with the family tradition that "all my genealogy had been done by my Great-grandmother." In retrospect the statement was far from true by simple logic. My Great-grandmother was not related to my father or his family at all. But in total ignorance of my family relations, I believed the tradition as did all my family members. My awakening came when I was literally forced to examine my four generation pedigree and realized that the claim was totally false. Deep down inside of me, my soul was offended that I had believed something so easily disproved and I stubbornly set out to document my family lines.

In my early years, I used to say, I am not interested in the stories, I am interested only in establishing correct dates and places. I felt I did not have time to digress into maudlin storytelling. As time went on and I gathered more and more information, the stories came along with the names and dates. Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors. My search through records became a door into the lives and minds of those who had lived across the years. I began to visit cemeteries. I began to visit the places where my ancestors had lived and worked. Once I started the journey to know my ancestors, they began to reach out to me in direct proportion to my attempts to reach them. Without any effort on my part, boxes and boxes of records began to make their way to me.

The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples' lives?

Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.

10 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post ~ thank you! I can't pinpoint the exact time the names and dates I was "collecting" started to become people, but this post just really resonated with me. Thank you for expressing it so eloquently.

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  2. Another insightful post! And so very true.

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  3. Well said, James. This is how I feel about what I do. Thank you for putting it into words so well!

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  4. I agree with you totally. This is a wonderful post! Thank you so much!

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  5. Well said, James. The stories start creeping in, the names develop personalities and before you know it, you have Real People :-) Thanks for this post. Jo

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  6. I think I had that particular conversion when looking at one family, finding infant after infant either born dead or dying within days, with only a few who lived to adulthood. How do you keep up your spirits and try again when you've had so many dead babies?

    Another thing that helped was my paternal grandmother's extensive hand-written memoirs which ended up in my possession, in which she describes very well the life on the South Dakota plains trying to eke out a living on a farm with poor growing conditions.

    Anyone who does this long enough will have this particular conversion, I think.

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  7. Beautifully said and so very appropriate! Thank you.

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  8. I want to thank Greta for telling me about this post. You expressed my sentiments so well. I want to come back and read your other posts.

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  9. I came here on Greta's recommendation also.

    And I'm so glad I did.

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  10. Fabulous post! The stories were not what got me into genealogy, but they are what keep me here now. Great blog :-)

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