I recently updated my “About Kathleen” page here on the blog. Reading my previous page got me thinking a lot about my views on genealogy. While writing the new page, I was trying to think of what I’m usually asked the first time I tell someone I research my family history. Which I never refer to as genealogy, because then that leads to the blank stare most times.
If you’ve ever had a genealogy discussion with the non-initiated, or even the initiated, the first question always seems to be: “Oh, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve found?”
That question makes me chuckle a little bit. It’s kind of like my sister coming home from a day at the bank and me asking her, “Who was your most interesting customer? No, I don’t want to hear about your day or the mechanics of it. Just your most interesting part.”
Am I dissing someone who asks that question? Of course not! I would never do that. Any reason to talk genealogy is a good enough reason to me. I’m definitely not saying that I want to go on a 45 minute discussion on how I dissect which records are important and which ones aren’t.
I guess my point is, that question is impossible for me to answer. I was born, raised, and still live in Southern Maryland. In this tri-county area, I’ve had zero extended family most of my life. Most of my relatives are a half day drive away. So when I started to research my genealogy, everything I found was just so fascinating. I couldn’t believe that this five person family I grew up with could branch out so far. I knew I had cousins on each side of my family, and I knew that I had two sets of grandparents. I think I saw my maternal grandma once every five years until we were old enough to travel better. Not to mention the cost of traveling for a young family who didn’t have a lot to spare.
For someone who had her siblings, their friends, her own friends and that was it; Family is something that it took me awhile to grasp. I’ve read a lot of articles where people don’t understand why people research their family history. It’s in the past they say. It has no bearing on who you are. I don’t need to know about them to live a perfectly normal life.
I can say most of that is true. Except for saying it has no bearing on who you are. I am by no means a psychologist. However, I am a people watcher. I love to observe and analyze. It’s why I enjoyed jury duty so much. I actually think I have a very good perspective on how learning your family history can change your views of the world. Not having any idea where I came from, not having close relationships with my extended family until we were grown, all those factors help me to differentiate how I felt before and after genealogy.
I’ve never walked my ancestral grounds, I’ve never gone farther then the distance it takes to visit family, and I’ve never spent more money on genealogy in a year then I wouldn’t have spent on quilting fabric at the store. What I can say about learning my family history can’t really be put into words, but that’s what I’m going to try to do anyway.
I could have gone through my life never knowing anything about my family history. What you learn in your family history isn’t something thats measurable in money or fame. A lot of people think everyone who researches their family history is in it for some kind of fame seeking reasons. That isn’t so. You actually learn compassion for how hard it was to get to the point where you are today. A lot of people take for granted that the majority of Americans are educated from the kindergarten level, all the way up to high school. As early as the 1930 census, it was common for people not to be able to sign their own name. In fact, there are still people out there not able to read or write. When you think back on ancestors, who left Ireland with nothing but the clothes on their back and a skill they’d learned, you can’t help but feel proud of them. They conquered life when the odds were against them. Their only hope was in themselves and their faith. Yet these people in the past, who you’ll never know but through genealogy put you where you are today. If they had gone left instead of right, would you be the same person you are today? If they hadn’t come to America, would they or their children have survived for you to even be born?
So when I’m asked what my most interesting find is, I say “All of them”. I find William H Moore’s immigration interesting. I find the vast numbers of Mays ancestors interesting. I come from a world of living in the same place for all my life, so I find the Redford family’s migration to Los Angeles, CA interesting. I find the farmers just as interesting as the plumbers. The plumbers are just as interesting as the tailors. The tailors are just as interesting as the people who ended up signing their WWI Draft Card from the county jail.
The fascination isn’t in the notoriety or out of the ordinary for me. It’s the family unit and how it survives over time. I know because of my relatives that rough patches iron out. You lose your loved ones, but you can in fact carry on and survive. I know that those friends I made during school and am still friends with are as much a part of my family history as my cousin Patty is. They all make up my story.
The facts about my ancestors may not be Hollywood worthy and they may not have done super extraordinary things that made them rich or famous. What they did do was give me inspiration to do what I love and keep living my life for today and not yesterday. Yesterday is already written. It’s my decision on how to write today and tomorrow. I only hope that I’m half as much inspiration to my descendants as my ancestors are to me.