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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What is really important in genealogy?

In my real life, as opposed to my online life, I live a great distance from most of my children and their families. Even with the one family that lives close, I have very little interaction with my grandchildren. Most of my contact is confined to the telephone and video conferencing online. Both my wife's parents and both my parents are now deceased, and for a variety of reasons, we have little contact with either of our parent's families. In the past, we always had much more contact with my wife's extended family, than we did with my own extended family. My father's parents both died before I was born and during my life, I have had almost no contact with the Tanner side of my family. I have always contrasted our lack of contact with relatives with some of the families I know here in Mesa, Arizona. I am familiar with extended families that get together every week for a gathering, sometimes with dozens of relatives.

Both my wife's parents and my parents tried to have annual gatherings while they were alive, but those have disappeared in my family and become much less extensive and frequent in my wife's family. We often speculate whether or not we would have more contact with our families if we lived in close proximity?

Perhaps in part, my interest in genealogy is a compensation for the lack of contact with an extended family. Despite the more recent dearth of interpersonal contact with my family, we have kept in touch with many of our children and even a few grandchildren by electronic means. But under all of the busyness and distances of modern life, there is a foundation. That foundation is a shared, preserved history of our family. The online manifestation of this foundation is our shared blog,  If it were not for the genealogical activities I pursue, I would really be isolated from my extended family. As it is, I can share times with relatives that I had no idea existed while I was growing up. Perhaps the challenge for some in the family is the label of genealogy. There does seem to be a very negative reaction from some members of the family to the whole concept. But the real importance of genealogy is in preserving and enhancing those family relationships in addition to or in spite of the ability of the family to connect directly and in person.

Of course, for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is supposed to be a religiously motivated reason for an interest in families and ancestral research. But surprisingly, that is not always the case. I find little correlation between Church membership and interest in genealogy. The huge genealogical structure of the Church, such as FamilySearch, is mostly ignored by the members at large despite isolated examples to the contrary. I would guess that interest in genealogy in the Church runs at about the same level as it does in the general population of the world. If genealogy is so important to us as individuals and families, why are so few people actively involved in learning about their past?

I think this points out another reason why genealogy is so important. There are so few people who actually take an active part in preserving their family's heritage. Those who do are immensely important in passing on the traditions and stories of the past.

I have mentioned before the lack of involvement in genealogy of those in my immediate family. Well, three of my children are now more or less actively involved; of course that is out of 14 children (including spouses) and 31 grandchildren. But of my siblings, my grandparent's children and descendants and even my great-grandparents and their descendants, I know of no other individuals who are active in genealogical research. I have to go back to descendants of my great-great-grandparents before I find active genealogists. So that is one reason why I feel my own work is important. Who else is there to preserve this part of the family traditions?

What is really important is making the effort to preserve, not just a list of names and dates, but the cultural, social, religious and personal heritage of our ancestors. Whether we do with with or without the interest and cooperation of our immediate or extended families is not nearly as important as whether or not it does get done.

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