Why do you love genealogy?

“Why do you love genealogy?”

As a leading question, this ranks close to “When did you stop beating your wife?” For years I’ve dodged it by mumbling about coincidence and the need to make a living. Recently, though, I had to answer in public, and found myself coming out with some truths.

Lots of fourth cousins twice removed

First, I love the endless solving of thousands of small puzzles. It is literally addictive. The tiny hit of satisfaction from uncovering a minuscule piece of the jigsaw and seeing it fit with the whole is very like the sweet little nicotine rush I used to get from each pull of a cigarette. The compulsion to go on is continually reinforced, and the fact that no family history can ever be completely finished, that the bigger puzzle can never be solved, just amplifies that compulsion.

Luverly, luverly heritage databases

Second, the part of genealogy that I enjoy¬†most, making heritage databases, has a near-religious rightness about it. As in Van Morrison’s classic ‘Cleaning Windows’, things that were opaque are made clear. And like Van, I take an evangelical pleasure in it. As well, of course, as the less pure satisfaction of revenge on records that used to consume days of my life but now take only minutes.

Most of all, though, genealogy brings history to life in ways that are endlessly enthralling. To use records properly, you have to try to see them through the eyes of the people who made them, the recorders, as well as the people who are recorded. The result is a worm’s-eye view of history, where the laws of statistics don’t apply and great events happen away in the distance.

As a way of understanding history, it has its flaws – our ancestors didn’t necessarily understand what was happening to them, any more than we understand what’s going on around us now. But it certainly helps.

21 thoughts on “Why do you love genealogy?”

  1. Well put, very well put indeed. For myself I would add the deep satisfaction I feel in giving my long-ago family their deserved dignity as individuals by telling the stories of their lives through documents and historical context.

    1. That’s lovely Virginia I feel exactly the same way. I can never get enough little pieces to the puzzle‚Ķ

  2. Mr. Grenham,

    Glad to hear that someone else is drawn in by that “jigsaw concept” and yes, when just that one little piece fits in, it does become a simply delightful experience … the hard work does in fact pay off!

    I have transcribed for Family Search and other groups for years now, hoping to be able to help others unearth information on their ancestors and have always tried to use those eagle eyes to help any eliminate errors. Transcribing files can be very enlightening … even if the information may have no connection to our own families … just knowing that more information is out there to be shared!!!!

  3. This is a perfect answer to the “Why do you love genealogy?” question! I have to add one more reason, perfect for my seemingly genetic bent for nosiness. I am the oldest of 6 children and one is not nosier than the next. Family secrets became secrets because an aunt or a grandmother, or sibling did not want to embarrass, or bother and when a name became associated with a whisper intrigue became unbearable!

  4. I too find the jigsaw concept addictive and sometimes that one piece allows several other pieces to fall in place as it did for me this past year. A birth record for a distant aunt allowed me to place my family in the Highlands where family lore said that they had lived at one time.

  5. Marvellous piece John.. I find Ancestry so captivating yet so frustrating at times but oh so rewarding when I find a new piece of my jigsaw.. For me though, my love of Ancestry is the uncovering of my Ancestors lives for my families future generations it’s a great buzz but of greater importance to me is laying down my ancestors legacy on record.. the people who’s blood course through my veins who’s lives are entwined with mine the folk who basically bore me and my kin.

  6. My friends mother got me started back in 1970 and I was hooked. I was the 7th of 8 children and never got to know my grandparents. Genealogy has helped me understand a lot about my ancestors. I feel like a detective and enjoy almost everything about genealogy. After 47 years I have solved somethings and continue to chip away at my brick walls. And as you said a genealogist work is never done. Loved the blog.

  7. I’m consumed by the subject also and everyone in my local pub have had their family history completed free gratis. All that ends in 2017. New Years resolution. Nice article John.

  8. The puzzle is very symbolic. I love research and putting pieces together. It solves the unknown and provides a perspective for the next step. It is worth all the time and effort to find the missing pieces and and to move on! What a great sense of satisfaction to have a window into the past in order to put the family history together.

  9. Thanks for this post, John.

    For me, it is the satisfaction of solving one small part of the puzzle but also the unique journey that each of our ancestors took through life. I’m always amazed at where they went to, what they did, etc. Really fascinating stuff.


  10. I like the analogy to a jigsaw puzzle and satisfaction when pieces come together. For me, searching provides some answers to “why am I me”

  11. I am desperate my first irish family look very old.It is very hard to find some things about
    their mariage.The first name is:John Walsh or Welsh or Welch or Welche born in Lauth
    Ireland.His wife is Elizabeth Dunn but no country in Ireland referance.They come in Canada
    by boat and establish there residence in first in quebec town and second in Halesborough .
    This name come from Edward Hale an Irish man who is buy all north territory of area
    name ‘Halesborough’.This area as come name ‘Portneuf’ in french.What is sure from
    my ancestor is:Johm die in 1846, 66 years old,so is birth is near 1780 in Ireland.His wife
    Elizabeth die in 1863,67 years old,is birth is near 1796 in Ireland.The birth of John will be in
    parish Lough.No idea for Elizabeth.Finally I think that this ancestor are very hard to find
    response on there place of birth in what parish.I think that no document exist because
    no reference are available due too old date of birth.Thank

    1. When reading about Irish Y-DNA surnames study, noticed a suggestion that surname Walsh/Welsh found in Ireland might have been given to feudal Welsh tenants taken over to Ireland by the Welsh Marcher Lords to “subdue & maintain” the Anglo-Norman estates in Ireland centuries ago. So probably they settled around the many Norman castles across Ireland. Trim Castle on the River Boyne was a major fortress would have been protected by many Welsh soldiers under the De Lacy family. Is your Lauth parish County Louth?
      Finding where these troops settled centuries ago and understanding this period of Ireland’s troubled history, may eventually lead you to their townland. It explains why a farm on the Welsh borders was called Irishman’s brook.

  12. I also love the jigsaw effect; my paternal grandmother used to call her solicitor her “cousin John” (same surname,- Minogue) and although I found out that his particular family came from Feakle, a few miles from Scarriff where ours came from, I couldn’t work out how we were related. (My grandmother died when I was 2, so I couldn’t ask her.) When contacting a newly-discovered 4th or 5th cousin from grandma’s grandma’s family which was Brady, the cousin mentioned having Minogues in their branch. When she sent me the details, voila! The mystery was solved. The other Minogues were related to us by marrying into one of our family branches.. Going backward also enables us to come forward again with new relatives. It’s frustrating at times, but fun!

  13. I appreciate the legacy effect as well as those benefits mentioned in John’s post. My mother and her first cousin started our family tree in the 1970s and 80s. I inherited their work on paper and have grown what was less than a hundred known people or so to over 2,000; several found via DNA testing. My work is made available via ancestry.com and will be there when a distant-in-time niece or nephew or far flung cousin builds from her/himself up their tree. That I have left a well-documented trail for future generations is one of my legacies.

  14. I am drawn to discovering my genealogy because, as a child, I was mesmerized by my great-grandmother’s stories of her early childhood in Ireland. I love history, so finding out more about my Irish family and their circumstances is intriguing.

  15. Everything everyone has said. When I was researching my 19th century ancestors and writing a paper about them, I felt the need to give context to their experiences. That lead to me understanding the very high childhood mortality rate for even middle class US families like mine. The huge sense of loss parents experienced then is beyond comprehension. Add to that the wars and famines. So, now we researches ask, how did they survive? … They found a way to endure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.