By Gene Hall, a Genealogist With Almost 30 Years Of Experience
A few years ago I read a statistic that said that genealogy was the second largest hobby in the United States - second only to gardening. It was no surprise to me as I have been finding and documenting my family tree for almost 30 years. Over that time a lot of people have asked me, "Why genealogy? What do you get out of it?" There are a lot of reasons to find out about your family and I’ll cover just a few hoping that one of them will get you started.
Curiosity: A lot of people are just plain curious about where they came from, what their ancestors did, how they got here - to this time and this place. Lots of people find themselves in this category when they are told that they are adopted. While they have adoptive parents, traditions, and history, they also have another history that calls out to them. Other people have lost touch and are curious about where people are, how they turned out, who they married.
It’s a Great Puzzle: This applies to me in several areas of my life besides genealogy. I have worked with numbers a lot - particularly with market research. I just love understanding what motivates people to buy certain products, where they shop, how much they want to pay, and where they want to hear about those products. When my wife and I go camping I spend hours working crypto quotes in the sun - fun and challenging puzzles that help me relax.
When it comes to puzzles, I don’t think anything can match the complexity and fun of genealogy. Just think about a jigsaw puzzle that has an almost infinite number of pieces - some of them that don’t fit and some of them missing. Nothing can match the satisfaction I get from finding one of those lost pieces of the puzzle and putting it into place. These are puzzle pieces that lead to long-lost cousins and far-off places.
Hobby: I did a lot of market research before organizing FamilyTrackers, Inc. The company was started out of my belief that Internet searches could be much more accurate than those usually conducted on the Internet. Interestingly, there is a group of genealogists who resist a more accurate way to find information. They are not interested in any tools that make the job faster. "That is the reason I do my family tree - to fill up my time. Looking into page after page of results is the part I like about genealogy. It’s my hobby," they said. Fortunately for me and for FamilyTrackers those who like the things I find most tedious are not a large portion of the market.
Leave a Legacy: Some people approach middle age or have a traumatic event at any age that prompts them to think about their mortality. "If I never meet my grandchildren, what will they know about me? What will they know about my parents? How will we be remembered?" Those of us who are fortunate enough to have ancestors in this category are indeed lucky. My grandmother wrote a short story about her trip as a young girl in a covered wagon from Illinois to Kansas. Thinking about it now, it must have been a dusty, hot, and miserable trip. The events that she wrote about were ordinary, daily occurrences that were taken for granted in her time - something that she wrote about because the trip was out of the ordinary. Read the same story today and discover something that is unique to our experience - herding cattle, rustlers, camping out every night. If you do nothing else with your family history, you should write down or record your life experiences in your own words in any way that you see fit.
Emotional Satisfaction: This is a huge reason for being involved in genealogy and one that I hear repeated by other people as they talk excitedly about their latest discovery. There are moments that happen during a search that are touching and immensely satisfying. This is the moment that you look at your great grandfather’s signature on your grandparent’s marriage license; put your hand on the baptismal font where your oldest known ancestor was baptized; stand on the ground where your great grandfather from the old country is buried - knowing that your grandmother stood on this spot in front of an open grave grieving her loss. These moments are thrilling, goose-bump producing moments of a life time when you can almost reach across time and touch a person who you finally understand and know. This is a moment you must not miss!
Give Something Back: Lots of people get involved when they volunteer at their local genealogical or historical society. What a wonderful place to meet nice people who are willing to help you discover your roots. These groups are responsible for saving crumbling records all over the world and for making the information available to everybody. People who work in these places are almost always unpaid and give their time and effort on behalf of people like you and me every single day - people they have never even met. This is important work and you can get the satisfaction of helping other people by volunteering yourself. It is easy. Pick up the phone and call.
Whatever your reasons, give genealogy a try. It is a stimulating hobby that will put you in touch with yourself and with a lot of nice people who are ready and willing to help.
- Gene Hall is a genealogist with almost 30 years of experience and the CEO of FamilyTrackers, Inc., a world-wide genealogy exchange dedicated to serving the needs of genealogists, genealogical societies, professional genealogists, and transcribers all over the world.FamilyTrackers is located at http://www.familytrackers.com/. This article comes with reprint rights.