On Facebook, we asked the question, “Why do you research your family history?” Well over 100 people answered. While there are some common themes, the answers reflect a wide variety of inspirations and unique starting points, from seeking answers to unknown parentages to a personal connection with a grandparent, and even exploring an ancestor’s personal experience with an historic event.
An Excellent Reminder
For many of us, we start out without a clear goal or set of expectations, and the first forays in can be dizzying, especially as we start to fall down the rabbit hole and explore connection after connection. However, it doesn’t take long for us to come up against the first brick walls or frustrations, and as anyone who’s been researching for a while can attest, what started out as something fun can quickly become very frustrating. This is doubly so for adoptees and those with unknown parentage.
So stopping for a minute to ask ourselves why we do it – and what got us started – is a great way to reconnect with that sense of wonder we started with, back when everything was uncharted territory.
It’s also a great way to tap into your goals to see what you’ve accomplished, and decide what you want to tackle. Have you found what you were initially looking for? Or have you gotten sidetracked? If so, now might be a great opportunity to refine your goals – as well as set new ones. After all, whether or not we found what we started off looking for, there’s so many ancestors with so many stories to tell. As Nathaniel Johnson says, “The more I discover, the more I want to know!”
For the full range of answers, head on over to our Facebook thread, but in the meantime, check out some of these highlights:
Inspired by Other Family Historians
“I first really got interested when I was around the age of 10 (30 years ago now). My great aunt (my grandmother’s older sister, who was the only blood relative I ever got to know in my childhood from my father’s side of the family) suffered a stroke, and I spent a lot of time with her that spring trying to help her recover her speech. I learned a lot about her family from those conversations (names of her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins)…I’ve always been fascinated by dates, and by the relationships between family members. I’ve found it really quite addictive over the past 7 years or so – and I suppose one big reason why I keep going is that I’ve found that the more I discover, the more I want to know!” – Nathaniel Johnson
“…my aunt got me interested, back in 1982. She started researching the family, but had to quit due to health problems. Reluctantly I agreed to take it over, and as I learned more about our ancestors, the more obsessed I became. To me it is a labor of love, and I still enjoy searching for that elusive ancestor, and working on what my husband used to call the ‘Bone Yard Chronicles’…” – Sandra VanOrman
Adoptions and Unknown Parentage
“I started because I am adopted and, as a lark, started looking. A long story short, I have found my birth father, mother and 3 1/2 birth brothers and 1 1/2 birth sister.. This has led me to research, my husband’s ancestors and both my families’ ancestors. I now help friends and family members.” – Saundra Ashley
“I’m adopted and my adopted parents passed early. My birth mother found me when I was in my thirties. She used genealogy as a way to find me. Since that time, we would do research together, me on both of my trees and her filling me in on the family I didn’t grow up with. She passed away last December and I inherited her research. Going over it now, I miss our talks, our trips to cemeteries, hours in the library, arguments over whether this John Herman was the right John Herman, and our embarrassed looks over those family secrets that came out.” – Kathy Herman
“I was an only child, raised by grandparents, and I had very little interaction with my father or his family. I felt alone in the world when my parents and all of my grandparents and great grandparents passed away. I started family history research to learn about my ancestors, but also to find family out there that I could get to know. To find family to love, and to be loved by. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve found dozens of cousins over the last few years and have developed close bonds with five of them. My husband and I both feel closer to them than to some of the relatives we have known our whole lives. Finding family has truly been a joy to my soul.” – Tina Renee
“I was about 7 when a gentleman came to the house who was researching my Dad’s side of the family. I was fascinated about who these ancestors were and how they were part of American history starting as pioneers. Been hooked ever since and made some good discoveries over the years.” – Utz Kat
“My great-great-grandparents died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland (Canada’s Titanic) in 1914. I wanted to know about them and what happened to their ten children.” – Lorie Pierce
“I grew up in a small town in upstate NY that was steeped in history. A President was born and died there. George Washington slept there. Benedict Arnold stayed there. My great-grandmother had done family tree research, which made this history personal to me. My grandmother shared the notes that her mother left behind. The people in that book become so familiar to me. As I grew up I wanted to learn more about who they were and what they did. I am here because of the choices they made. Now I like the thrill of discovering new names to add to the tree. Each person is another piece of the puzzle. A puzzle I am trying to fill in without knowing what the picture looks like.” – Kimberly Reilly
“My maternal great-grandmother already had a family chart started by her aunts. I loved to listen to the stories of both heartache and triumph. Through everything, they survived and thrived. There were stories about the connections our family has with famous or infamous people and events in history. I wanted to either prove or disprove those stories. That, for better or worse, is the biggest reason I got hooked on genealogy.” – Tambra Byrne
“Mine started briefly in grade school as a project and then it hibernate until I got married. I started with my husband’s family as they had records close by and it was a way to get to know them. It did turn into a hobby or maybe an obsession. The more I learned, the more I needed to know. I love the challenge of searching. Locating information, different resources and helping others do the same. When I started there was no Internet, now there is so much more access to records and information. The sky’s the limit.” – LeAnn Salwey
“One simple class at the library – one hour basic class and i was hooked.” – Vickie Williamson Parham
“When I was about 7 or 8, my school librarian gave me one of the paper dolls that used to come in the American Girl magazines. The dolls were of real girls and always had 4 outfits, each representing a female ancestor. I loved it and started getting the magazine so I could collect all the dolls. Some of them could trace their families back centuries. They encouraged girls to submit their own stories so they could be used for the dolls. I wanted to do it so badly but was disappointed that I couldn’t go back as far as some of the dolls could. I wanted one of my outfits to be an old fancy dress! That started my interest in genealogy. I like to think of what my doll would look like if I could submit my story now, which ancestors I would use and what their outfits would look like.” – Sarah Jones