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

Saturday, January 28, 2017

When Life Gets in the Way of Genealogy

I spent a pleasant afternoon helping a friend do some very complicated research concerning his Welsh ancestors. We ended up looking at three large rolls of microfilm that turned out to be all in Welsh (Cymraeg or y Gymraeg). Needless to say, my friend was discouraged. Of course, I just looked at the situation as normal.

Another good friend succumbed to the dangers of snow and ice and fell on his way walking to the BYU Family History Library. Unfortunately, he will be laid up for a month or so recovering from the fall. My friends in Mesa, Arizona would point at this incident as a reason to move from the Frozen North to the lovely dessert. I would simply note that I have had any number of my friends in Mesa suffer from falls from even more mundane things than ice and snow. In fact, I had two or more rather spectacular falls walking from my car to my office on sunny, very dry days.

These two experiences actually have a lot in common. Life presents itself as a series of events. Not all of them are unfortunate (despite the perspective of Lemony Snicket) but many of things that happen to us seem to directly affect our desire and/or our ability to find our ancestors. From my own perspective, I try to see all these obstacles as stones in the path to be stepped over rather than using them as reasons to give up and to quit trying.

Genealogy has its triumphs, but it also has its days, weeks, months and sometimes years of hard work and frustration.  Finding out that your ancestors spoke a language you do not know and probably do not want to learn is just one of the more obvious issues. Since many of us are at a certain age when just getting up and moving around can be a challenge, sitting all day in front of a computer or microfilm reader hour after hour does not have the same attraction it did just a few short years ago.

Most of us are also wrapped up in family, work and leisure activities that do not include a lot of genealogical research. I have any number of friends and acquaintances that do not think that sitting in a library all day is an attractive activity. So, being caught between the physical limitations and surrounded by alternative activity choices has a strong influence on the amount of time most are willing to dedicate to genealogy.

Then why do some of us elect to break the mold and spend an extraordinary amount of time doing genealogical research and closely related activities? Good question. Some of us claim a religious motivation. Some claim benefits of personal insight from learning about their ancestors. Beyond these justifications, there are those of us who feel a compulsion. Being in the latter capacity, I don't really have to get into deep introspection; I just do genealogy all day and sometimes most of the night.


  1. Your article made me smile; why, because I cannot understand people who pigeon-hole genealogy or by that matter history as separate from everyday life.

    As someone who was introduced to family history almost as soon as I could understand it family history is part of everyday life.
    I was taught to write partly by tracing parish registers in dim light in churches as a young boy. My mother and her sisters used to wash the family gravestones regularly as they grew up, so family history is somewhat second nature to us.

    That having been said we are all currently living genealogy just as we are all living history. In 100 or 200 years it will be our lives that are being traced not our grandparents.
    Most of us wish to leave something to our children and grandchildren, but think in monetary values rather than leaving them a gift that they and future generations can all share over and over again; knowledge.

    Please live your life knowing you are part of history and ensure your legacy contains the knowledge you amass everyday.


  2. Life does sometimes get in the way, as do those alternative attractions, but those of us obsessed with the research can't stay away long. I confess my staying power is often less these days.