What does researching our ancestors tell us?

The first ancestor I chose to research in detail was a woman who lived in Quebec City two centuries ago. She was born during a war, married a carpenter at 18, bore 10 children, grieved the death of four children, and died when she was only 38 years old.

Other than feeling grateful that my life is easier and longer than hers, what can I possibly gain by learning about her life?

More importantly, why should you, my reader, care about her at all?

There are lots of answers to this, depending on who you are, what you’re doing and what you need now, but for me, all these reasons can be described in a single word: hope.

The best thing about researching and reading about ancestors is the feeling of hope created by those actions.

Much of my drive is personal. I’m writing to learn about myself. If you’re one of my relatives, you probably read my stories hoping to learn something about yourself too. We both want to know whether the lives of our ancestors affected those of our grandparents and parents especially if that changed where we live now and who we know.

In the case of that woman from two hundred years ago, if her children died because of genetic health risks, we’ll want to know so that we can try to prevent the same thing happening to ourselves or our loved ones.

Her history might illuminate some of the personality quirks in our family, or you might wonder whether our long line of strong independent women began with her.

If you’re questioning whether that applies to you, think again. The more I do genealogy, the more I realize how many people might be connected to my family either through blood, historic friendship or past quarrels. Anyone in the world might be related somehow. Judy Russell writes about discovering some of these lost family members via genealogical research and new DNA tools in “Oh Charlie” at http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2014/02/02/oh-charlie/. Her article is making me reconsider genetic testing.

Researching our ancestors and sharing about the experience enables all of us to contribute to a wider understanding about who we are, what we’ve been and where we live in a bigger context too.

Even if we aren’t related in any way, the stories genealogists tell have lessons for anyone interested in righting past wrongs, illuminating communities or exploring a particular place. Janice Hamilton’s research on one of her ancestors, for example, has provided helpful background to a group of locals who provide tours of the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. You can read her stories about the Baggs and the community they helped found at http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/.

So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Looking into the details of an actual person’s life reveals a series of events that are complicated, nuanced and full of foibles. Circumstances often carry people in different directions than what might have otherwise been expected.

By figuring out what actually happened to whom and sharing any surprises we discover widely, we all get closer to the truth. Getting closer to truth creates possibilities for beauty, understanding and diversity.

Note: This post is cross-posted from http://arialview.ca.
Then again, maybe you’re different? Why do you research your family history?

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