Thursday, December 16, 2010

Family History--What's in it for me.

Last year, while we were putting together a new Generation Maps Mission Statement, I spent some time reflecting on why Genealogy is important. I've been putting together some new lectures for 2011 and I want to show you one of the graphics from one of the sets of Powerpoint slides. To me, it clearly explains the 4 reasons I believe Genealogy can save the world. (Said with a little tongue in cheek, but not much.)

  • Understanding and Emotional Healing. If you haven’t found someone in your family history who is a scoundrel, you haven’t done enough family history. Likewise, if you haven’t found anyone in your family who accomplished amazing things, you haven’t done enough family history. My husband and I run a genealogy chart printing company. As we print descendancy charts for family reunions, it never ceases to amaze us how often we can see trends running through family lines, even just in the vital information on a genealogy chart. Divorces, or illegitimate children can sometimes be seen running through generations on some lines, and then you can see where when one person breaks the cycle, and intact families follow. In my own family, among many other things, there are lines of addictive personalities and I know that is something I come by easily. And in my husband’s family, it is easy to see where the trend started that gave my mother-in-law her sense of self. Understanding these trends, and how they play through the generations can help us heal and deal with family members in a more compassionate and understanding way. I know some of the personality traits ran through my family, and into me, long before I started collecting family history. But now I understand them so much better.
  • Realizing Potential. I've written many times about being inspired by your family history. (It's easier to broadcast to the world, than all my stories about healing and understanding the problems in my family's history.) Once when my very scientifically minded son was struggling over yet another dreaded book report, I made the comment to him that he certainly had it in him to write well because he came from a long line of prolific writers. After a bit, he stopped the procrastination and finished up the report. I am continually amazed at how such small comments inspire confidence in my children. Likewise, in my 20’s, when I was given a short personal history of my great-grandmother, I found that she had been through a hard trial similar to mine at about the same age. It inspired me to know that those trials hadn’t defined her life and she had gone on to be very successful. I recently learned more about the sacrifices she made when she was the same age I am now. I look at my challenges and say “I can do this. It’s in my DNA.”
  • Grounded and Enveloped in Love. If you think about how much your grandmother loved you, you can imagine how much your great-grandmother, or even great-great grandmother loves you even though you might not have had a chance to know them in this life. I want my children to know as much as they can about the sacrifices that have been made in their behalf by their ancestors so that they could have the good life that they have now. Family history is often a solace for people whose current family ties aren’t what they want them to be.
  • Spiritual Power. I've written many times about the spiritual power of Family History. I usually like to call it Serendipity, because that takes out some of the religious connotations. The coincidences, psychic connectedness, hunches, “I don’t know why,” luck, synchronicity, inspiration, intuition, and providence cross all religious, social, political and etc. boundaries. Megan Smolenyak wrote in her book, In Search of Our Ancestors,“If you were to gather fifty genealogists in a room, chances are that forty-five of them would readily admit to having experienced a few unexplainable incidents in their search for roots.” (pg.1) I teach a class on serendipity that is one of my favorite classes to teach because you can feel everyone in the room give a sigh of relief that they aren't the only crazy genealogist. And when I open up the floor and ask the class if they've ever experienced serendipity in their research, I get to hear the most fantastic stories. I absolutely love teaching that class. It leaves everyone with an amazing sense of awe and an awesome feeling of connectedness.
So go out and share your love of family history with someone--especially your own family. You just might save the world for someone.


Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Wonderful post, Janet! I lost my mother in 2001, and keeping her alive through genealogy is one of the ways I can connect my daughter to her, and our other lost family members.

Oh, and I've found lots of scoundrels, and one that I recently wrote about here. Ancestors aren't always the pious people we assume they were! ;-)

Linda Gartz said...

Your comments on serendipity totally resonated with me. I was in Romania on a roots-finding mission. A professor of Saxon-German history (these are Germans from Transylvania) overhead us talking, got our email address, a year later contacted me and because of that connection I started looking closely at indecipherable old letters my grandmother had saved for decades, found someone who could decode them, then I translated the now-readable German into English ( I was a German major) and now have 100 year old letters and diaries I'm posting on my new blog.

I hope you'll check it out:

Family Archaeologist explores a century of family letters, diaries, and artifacts, and how they illuminate history and the humanity we all share.In the last month, I’ve shared 100th anniversary of photos, diaries, and love letters -- and next week the biggie -- my grandfather's diary of his trip to America -- started on Christmas eve a century ago.

Thanks for a wonderful perspective on family history.