Why Bother With Genealogy?

The genealogy world has been alive with controversy and debate over citations on blog posts – this blog post isn’t about that.  I have purposely been avoiding the latest controversy, drama, and debate.  Then I read, “Eliminating the Hobby from Genealogy” on The Geneabrarian Reference Desk blog and I started thinking about what word I would use to define my own genealogy research.  It isn’t really a hobby – it is so much deeper than a hobby.  It isn’t a religious or spiritual calling.  It isn’t my profession.  So what is it?

Why Bother With Genealogy?

In other words: Why do all of this research on dead people?  Why spend hours searching internet websites and databases?  Why dig your nose into dusty old books?  Why give yourself a migraine as you scroll through microfilm looking for a name?  Why spend money ordering records from archives and repositories?  Why go through all the work?

My answers won’t be the same as yours.  That’s OK.  My answers today probably won’t be the same in a year.  That’s OK too.

I research my ancestors because learning about these people who came before me helps to center me.  Learning about every hardship, every struggle, every accomplishment, every name and date gives me guidance – a reminder of how I got to where I am and a direction I want my future to go in.  Research provides an escape from my head.  Research helps me feel connected to the people who came before me.

Preserving my findings is something I do for me.  I have a whole closet with boxes full of pictures, old letters and other mementos.  The boxes belonged to my mom and became mine after she died.   The stuff in the boxes is mostly pictures from when my grandparents were starting their lives together as a newly wed couple.  The boxes chronicle their lives and the families they created.  The boxes show the growth of their children, the eventual additions of grandchildren and the expansion of the family.  The contents of the boxes have a strong pull on me, providing me a strong, very real connection to the grandparents I never knew.  The contents of the boxes show my mom in various stages of her life.  It all reminds me of how I got to this place in my life and the path I want my life to take.

Your personal reasons for doing genealogy might be totally different.  They might be similar.  That’s OK.

Let Your Reasons Fuel How You Do Research

In the past, I considered pursuing a path of professional genealogy but I’ve since decided that it isn’t a direction I want to go in.  I’ve known since I was five that I wanted to be a teacher.  Being a teacher is who I am and while genealogy will always have a special place in my life, it isn’t where I’m meant to be.

With that said, I don’t always cite my sources according to Elizabeth Shown Mills’ standards.  I strive to have correct citations but I won’t be losing sleep over where to put the comma or what words to italicize.  My reasons for recording citations are simple: so I can find the source in the future.  I know my citations aren’t perfect and I consider that A-OK.  I’m not striving for perfection here.

I have the utmost respect for those of you who are striving for a professional level of work – you are strong, determined, and hardworking people.

Noticing The Theme Here?  

In my opinion, whatever genealogy path you are on is perfectly OK.  This huge community and all of its various branches would be so incredibly boring if everyone was on the same path.  Having this melting pot of people with different levels of ability, different goals, different opinions, different reasons for why we are here makes us more interesting.  It makes the sand box more fun to play in.

In Conclusion…

I’m no closer to having a word that defines my own genealogy work.  But I am closer to why I do genealogy research and what that research means to me – I just haven’t given it a word yet.

Update: As one of my dedicated Harry Potter friends pointed out to me, the reasons why I do genealogy are nearly exactly the same as why I am obsessed with the Harry Potter series.  Wonder what other things I do in my life that have similar motivations and reasons?  Interesting…

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27 responses to “Why Bother With Genealogy?

  1. Great post, Elyse! My sentiments exactly. I’d also like to add that I have found many wonderful genealogy facts by following my cousins’ imperfect sources and I am grateful for them.

  2. What a great post! I especially like “My answers today probably won’t be the same in a year.” because I feel like that too. I’ve met so many great people through genealogy (like YOU!)- and that’s just one of many reasons I keep pursuing it. :-)
    Diana Ritchie´s last blog post ..Family Events ~ Jan 01 – Jan 08

  3. Elise,

    Great blog post and a great question.

    I made a discovery about 4 years ago, when a State Historical Society asked me to speak at a fundraiser they were having. (but that’s another story) their series of these fundraisers were about houses and their architecture. I said, I can’t talk about that, but I can talk about the People who lived there.

    Then in 2011, I was asked to speak at 2 Historical Societies about Find-A-Grave. I can do that, but why would a historical society want me to talk to them (period), but I get the Find-A-Grave, as the first one had a very old historical cemetery right next door.

    What hit me, a long way to get to the point, is that the Historical Society was preserving the history of this town, and I was about preserving the hiSTORY of the people who lived in that house, and the people in my family.

    So, I am moving from “doing” genealogy, that is collecting names, toward a Family Historian. (won’t get there, but that’s the direction).

    Along the way, I’ll leave behind those stories, in the way of a book or booklet. I left the home owners of that house a book the I put together on the Genealogy (and stories) of the ancestors who built that house.

    Thanks for your post. I’ll be following this one as well as your others.

    Russ Worthington´s last blog post ..52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy – Paid Online Genealogy Tools

  4. Excellent post Elyse! And like Diana stated above, I also like your statement about your answers today probably won’t be the same in a year. People change, circumstances change. No matter what, I have learned so much from my online genealogy friends, whether they posted citations or not.

  5. Elyse,
    What a very moving blog post! Obviously genealogy means a great deal to how you view the world and it means much more than a hobby to you also. I too have strong ties to genealogy for the exact reasons that you mentioned (and I don’t always have exact citations either). Thank you for sharing.
    The Geneabrarian´s last blog post ..Eliminating the Hobby from Genealogy

  6. Nice post, Elyse! I agree with so much of what you said. As a matter of fact (if you haven’t read it already), I expressed some similar feelings in a recent post on my blog, which you can read here: http://tinyurl.com/6q6uber

    When you find that “word” for exactly what we are doing, please share it with all of us. It’s definitely not a hobby, what what is it???? :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  7. Elyse asked: “Wonder what other things I do in my life that have similar motivations and reasons?” I believe the word is passion. Greta commented on the Geneabraian post using the word: “avocation” – I like avocation because it implies passion. Check avocation on Wikipedia it describes how I feel about “family history and genealogy” – note, I always use the phrase like this; I don’t do one without the other. Thanks for the post. Thanks to each comments. Right on target. 😉
    Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith´s last blog post ..Social Saturday – Smith gathering, September 1955

  8. I really enjoyed your post, Elyse. Like Dr. Bill Smith, I like the word avocation to describe my relationship to genealogy. I considered going professional earlier even giving lectures for a few years but found my passion was doing my own lines. I simply love connecting with my ancestors lives. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great post! My thoughts exactly. Like Dr Bill Smith stated I have always called it my “Passion” It’s nothing more and nothing less. I do this for myself, my family and those who also share the same ancetors. My thoughts on the whole thing is my post are for their enjoyment. If someone doesn’t like the way I write them, cite them or don’t cite them……well guess what? They don’t have to read it. I do this from my heart and with passion.

  10. Fantastic post Elyse! I feel exactly the same way. In fact, I spent 4 hours in the car today driving and I’m pretty sure I wrote a very similar blog post in my head. Everyone is on a journey, looking for different things, very hard to tie it up in a neat package and label it and we just don’t need it to be. Let’s embrace our individuality and let everyone do what they do best.
    Lynn Palermo´s last blog post ..2012 Genealogy Conferences

  11. Beautifully said, Elyse! I love the Family Historian tag, personally. I also try to give my sources, may not always be completely accurate in style, but one of the important things to me is giving family members and others credit for photographs or letters or interviews. I’m finding more and more enjoyment from the stories of the past and trying to find a timeline when my ancestors were in a particular place than I have ever found with just names and dates on a pedigree. Yes, I think I have a passion for this, as well!
    Judith Richards Shubert´s last blog post ..January River of Small Stone – Jan 7, 2012

  12. A wonderful post Elyse. I do genealogy for many of the same reasons. I started out doing my own research for about 11 years and then followed my dream to become a professional. One thing I strive to do in my professional work is encourage my clients to consider creating a book at the end of their projects (not all clients come to me with this as a possible end result) or at some point in the future. To donate their materials, stories, books, to a local society or place where it can be shared.

    I am very thankful that a recent client with Italian roots has opened new doors for me to help encourage others to share their stories. I attended a lecture at the Italian Cultural Center in the Chicago area the other night. Met Dominick Candeloro, a respected Chicago Italian historian who is incredibly connected and involved to the ICC. He has authored many books and told the audience one of his missions is to record and preserve every ounce of evidence that Italians lived in Chicago. He wants people to share their stories, photos and documents. And thanks to my client I now have a connection to a man who has one of the same missions I do. I think we will be able to help each other use our passion for genealogy and history to spread this mission. I also have an opportunity to help with kids projects as another mission of Dominick is to get the younger generation involved. Kids are another thing I’m passionate about where genealogy is concerned.

    We all have our reasons for doing genealogy or going professional and that is ok. As Lynn said in a comment above, “Let’s embrace our individuality and let everyone do what they do best.” If we all give our best there will be more to share and learn and provide the next generation of researchers.
    Jennifer Holik-Urban´s last blog post ..Tuesday’s Tip – Read Haunted Springfield, Illinois

  13. Elyse – Are you sure you aren’t a bit older than you look? Your comments are so very wise. I especially like your statement that researching your ancestors helps to “center” you. Yes, it gives us a place in this world; it helps make us feel connected. That’s what interests me about family history too. I want to know the back-story to my grandmother’s life; the names and branches on the family tree are helping me climb to that story.

    I’ve always thought that the world would be a mighty boring place if everyone thought and acted the same way. Genealogy has room for everyone, at all levels; thanks for the reminder.
    Denise Levenick´s last blog post ..Ring in the New 2012 Genealogy Goals

  14. Why do we always get the “Why” question? I spend a lot of time on scrapbooking and other crafting interests, yet nobody ever asks me why I do those things. They may ask how do I have time, or doesn’t that cost a lot of money? But they never ask me “why do you do scrapbooking”? What IS it about genealogy that brings out the “whys” in people?

    I enjoyed your post, very well thought out and written!

  15. Elyse,

    You speak to truth; and that’s so refreshing.
    Keep doin’ whatcha doin’!
    That’s all I got for ya.

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors’
    George Geder´s last blog post ..Finding and placing your Ancestors in the Context of your Personal Family History.

  16. Elyse,

    Good on both your post and Dr. Bill’s comments! I’ve got the best of both worlds with mine. My love of history fueled the research of my adoptive family. Once I made the leap and was reunited with my birth family, my questions about heritage fueled that part of it. At some point, they both melded and became a passion.

    The way I look at it, we all do this for different reasons. No one’s wrong, no one’s right, except for their reasons.

    Rock on!

    Jen Bawden´s last blog post ..52 Weeks to Abundant Genealogy – Paid Genealogy Tools

  17. Elyse,

    Thank you for saying … what I didn’t know how to say. :)) Great Message!!!!

  18. Great post, Elyse. Our reasons for digging and delving into our pasts are very personal and passionate. My own reason was to find a larger sense of family as mine was (very) negative – and indeed I did find and am still finding a much larger sense of Family: 2 1st cousins who’d disappeared after a divorce 40 years ago, many 2nd and 3rd cousins, closer relations to several 1st cousins (now quite elderly). And, a much more positive sense of myself as well in this big Family. Thank you for your sharing.

  19. FANTASTIC post Elyse! I agree completely and often ask myself the question “why do I bother?” especially when I get the ‘stare’ from other family members after all these years of doing this seemingly for myself. No matter, I’ll keep doing what I love, and get the sources documented as best I can, like you, more for myself to get to that document/book/website again. The thrill of the hunt is what captures me, keeps me, and often frustrates me, but on we go!
    Cindy´s last blog post ..Wordless Wednesday

  20. Hi Elyse,
    A very thoughtful, personal, and emotional response. I have 25 bankers’ boxes of family letters, diaries, photos and memorabilia. I have gained so much of a deeper understanding of my grandparents, parents, and my childhood from reading these documents. I’ve met an uncle I never knew and now feel I’ve heard his voice. It’s my avocation for sure. When I read their words and look at their photos — from youth to old age, I sometimes feel like they’re still alive. It’s a way of connecting with those we’ve loved and understanding how we came to be as we are.
    Linda Gartz´s last blog post ..Like a bolt out of the blue!

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  23. Great post! I find that I am not pursuing professional genealogy in the sense of taking clients and all that, but rather headed in the direction of the academic discipline of history. I will be entering the master’s program in history at the University of North Florida in the fall. However, my historical investigations are grounded in genealogy in that I am taking a family-based and community-based approach to history. I think the blend of history and genealogy is as natural as breathing.

    Good luck to you in your chosen career of teaching. God bless you, because we sure do need more good teachers! And I hope that someday you will be paid what you SHOULD be paid, by darn!
    Karen Rhodes´s last blog post .."Tell the children about me."

  24. I agree completely and often ask myself the question “why do I bother?” especially when I get the ‘stare’ from other family members after all these years of doing this seemingly for myself, thanks for the post, keep up the good work.
    Chris Danial´s last blog post ..How to trade forex successfully

  25. After looking over a notebook I had put together on a branch of my family, an uncle told me I should go into Genealogy as a profession, and get paid for all the hard work. My immediate reply was “No, then it would not be fun any more, it would be my job”. And frankly, my mental picture of a Professional Genalogist is not the kind of person I care to be. Okay, my picture my be skewed by having first met some rather pedantic, snobish, uncivil people. They are probably the exceptions to the rule (I hope). But for me, the day Genealogy is no longer fun, relaxing, or informative, is the day I hang it up!

  26. I agree with all you said very strongly as well as all the other comments. Everyone has heard that you won’t know where you are going until you find out where you came from. Having come from a mixed race family that hid their ancestry (even from me), discovering my family’s history has connected me with a world I knew nothing about and a part of American History I knew nothing about. Genealogy has made me a historian and has provided a great educational endeavor. I could have watched TV or played sports but neither would have expanded my mind as genealogy has done.

  27. Your post struck a cord with many people, myself included. I especially related to the part where you said your research into the past “centered” you. I credit my research and the knowledge of what my ancestors survived with allowing me to keep my sanity while I negotiated my way through a very trying period in my life. Knowing that all of my ancestors carried on after the trials that life had sent their way gave me the strength of knowing that they had gone before me. It put my life and woes into perspective. I find strength in knowing my roots.

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