Why I Do Genealogy
by Mark Fearer, Boulder
Reprinted here with permission from Mark’s Blog
I’ve plagiarized this from a family newsletter I created.
Yes, I am addicted to studying the genes, although don’t mistake me for a geneticist.
I’ve been asked a number of times, “Why do you do this?” A fair question, especially since I am incessantly asking questions of others (it’s the journalist in me). Although the answer continues to evolve, here is currently what motivates me:
I have been interviewing members of my immediate family since 1984 — first on audio tape, then on video (sometimes to their consternation) - in the belief that it was important to record not only information they might have had about the family, but to create a portrait in time of what they were like and how they saw the world. While I wasn’t specifically interested in genealogy (that sounded like a “hobby” for old people), I did have an interest in family history, and what countries we came from — but I never really pursued it.
Around the turn of the new millennium, I bought a genealogy software program. Little did I know what obsessive-compulsive behavior would be awakened in my brain. I quickly found that I wanted to make as large a database as possible. Later, I found I wanted breadth to match depth.
But the longer I do this, the more reasons emerge. At first, not only did I want to trace the origins of my different families — and I am researching all branches of my family simultaneously — but I wanted to learn about who my ancestors really were. While just discovering names can be quite a task and thrill, especially as you go back further, I wanted to find out who that person was: how they lived, what made them special, what family characteristics — if any — did they have, why did they make the choices they did, what was life like in that era — the list goes on. I also found later that I wanted to see what characteristics I inherited from them — if I could determine what family traits each of my branches exhibited. Additionally, I was interested in medical histories, and what medical traits or predispositions I might inherit.
On this journey, I realized I was not only discovering the past, but the further back I went, I would find additional branches — and that would inevitably lead to discovering new, present day cousins. By unearthing the past, I was expanding my present family. I used to think of myself as having just a few cousins. Now I have hundreds, and that is approaching thousands. By the time I’m done (actually, I’ll never be done), I’ll probably have found hundreds of thousands of cousins — and that gives me a new perspective on relating to people in general. Rather than seeing strangers as people I don’t know and have nothing in common with, I might see them as potential cousins, whom I haven’t yet made the connection to. I have met — or at least talked to — many who were one moment strangers, and the next, part of my ever extending family.
As an unabashed “peacenik” I feel this has powerful political implications. In a world torn with war, strife, unresolved conflict, and irresponsible technology, it is much easier to judge, criticize, insult — and yes, even hate — people I have no connection to. Once they become family, I feel obligated to treat them differently, and try harder to see their perspective and walk in their shoes. If we all feel more connected, either by blood or marriage, I feel we are less likely to condemn, judge or hate. Now, I’m not naïve enough to forget that some of the most difficult people in our lives are family members — but still, we are more tolerant — usually — of those we are closest to. And in my rare moments of insight, I remember that everyone has something to teach, whether I like it or not.
I have also come to see researching, collecting and organizing this information about my ancestors as a sacred duty — a mitzvah (a good deed or commandment)— one that I take very seriously. Because I would have given my right arm for similar information that someone would have compiled 100 years ago, I want to make sure this information is handed down for many generations to come. I feel I owe a great, unpayable debt to those who came before me and sacrificed far beyond anything we’ll ever know.
For some people, genealogy is a hobby - but for most of us, it has a far larger impact than some pleasant activity to pass the time. It is about preserving memory, and acknowledging those that came before us, along with discovering how choices my ancestors made became an indelible part of my identity. History has become far less abstract - I am finding out how it directly affected them, and therefore, me.
In short, I have a passion for this work, and love doing it. In fact, in early 2007, I decided to “cross over the line” and become a professional genealogist, to help others with their family history. If you have an interest in finding out more about your family history, please contact me.