Why Genealogy Is Important

Genealogy is a curiosity for most, a hobby for many and an obsession for some. In this article we look at some of the practical and philosophical reasons that motivate people to spend time researching their ancestors.

Some people have very specific reasons for tracing their family tree. Others jump into family history research without giving it much thought. Knowledge of the specific factors that motivate people to research their ancestors, however, can be a source of inspiration and support when the inevitable roadblocks and brick walls become a factor. What motivates the broader genealogy community is also helpful in understanding the future direction of ancestral research.

Genealogy can certainly mean different things to different people. However, there are some common threads that all people share when looking towards the past. The first part of the article discusses the many practical reasons why people get involved with genealogy. Often, these practical aspects are caused by a specific trigger. The second part of the article focuses on the philosophical aspects of human curiosity and how it motivates people to research their family tree.

The Philosophical Side of Genealogy

Genealogy is a fascinating and compelling activity that demands the same kind of persistence and deductive reasoning as detective work to solve a series of mysteries. Except in this case, the mystery is you.

Genealogy is not a new activity and it is not isolated to any one culture. It bridges across all cultures and all eras. At its root, genealogy satisfies basic human curiosity. These needs can be summed up in three fundamental questions:

  • The Past - Where do I come from?
  • The Present - Why am I here?
  • The Future - What is going to happen to me?

Interestingly enough, the three fundamental questions that underpin genealogy are also the three questions that form the basis of all the major religions of the world. People have a basic desire to know where they came from and how they got to where they are today. Thus, in some ways there is a philosophical connection between genealogy and religion.

Another philosophical approach can be defined by taking a family tree and flipping it on its head. In other words, invert the timeline of a family tree and look at it from the perspective of one of your ancestors. From their point of view, you would represent the future. Such a simple exercise produces a profound truth: you are the end product of many generations that came before you.

Chances are many of your ancestors had to overcome considerable personal hardship in their lives. The knowledge that your ancestors had great inner strength can be a powerful motivator for anyone trying to understand their place in the world. If it were not for them, you would not be here today reading these words.

Final Thoughts

Genealogy is history on a personal scale. It helps satisfy a deep need to understand how we fit into the broader world around us. Genealogy is more than just a collection of single family threads passing through time. It truly is a journey of many lifetimes woven together from the past, the present and (from our perspective) the future. Genealogy is a popular pastime and it is important because ultimately it lies at the heart of the human condition. So go and have fun with it!

This article is originally from the "Genealogy in Time" Online Magazine, used with thanks. No Copyright infringement intended.