Mar 1, 2021

(+) Are You a Family Historian or a Name Collector?

The following is a Plus Edition article, written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

I have a question. None of my living relatives knows the answer to this question. I have not found the answer to this question in any public records, nor have I been able to find the answer in cemeteries. I have read a few magazine articles and Internet pages about the topic, but none of them have directly answered the question.

The question is… “Why do we study genealogy?”

What makes anyone so curious about his or her family tree? What drives us to dedicate time, effort, and sometimes expenses to go find dead people?

What is it inside of us that makes us spend hours and hours cranking reels of microfilm, then we go home and report to our family members what a great day we had?

I must admit that I have asked that question of many people and have received several answers. Some people report that it is simple curiosity… and I tend to believe that is a part of the answer. Others report that it is part of an intriguing puzzle that they wish to solve.

The theory on the puzzle bothers me. First of all, I am devoted to genealogy, but I could care less about other puzzles. I don’t do the daily crosswords in the newspaper, I don’t put together those picture puzzles, and I do not seem very interested in any other form of puzzles. If genealogy is solely a puzzle, why would I be attracted to it and yet not to other puzzles? That doesn’t make sense to me. In short, I think there is more to genealogy than there is to a crossword puzzle.

The simplest and most direct answer for many people is because it is a religious requirement. Indeed, members of the LDS Church are encouraged to find information about their ancestry for religious purposes. And yet, of all the LDS members that I meet at most genealogy conferences, most met their religious requirements years ago but continue to look further and further back. In fact, many of them become so addicted that they help others do the same.

Yes, I can accept that religion is a major motivator, but I believe there is still more. I constantly meet people, LDS members and non-members alike, who keep searching and searching, further and further back. Why?

I do not have all the answers, but I do have an observation or two. I believe that most all humans have a natural curiosity. We are curious about many things, but for now, I will focus on our curiosity about our origins and ourselves.

It seems to me that we are all curious about who we are. When I say, “who we are,” that includes questions about our origins. Where did I come from? How did I end up being born where I was? What trials and tribulations did my parents go through in order to give birth to me and my siblings and to raise a family? What did their parents go through to do the same for them? And how about their parents?

All of this is an inverted pyramid. It all comes down to me. Each of us is walking around with an invisible inverted pyramid on our heads. Each of us is visible but each of us is also the result of the many people in the invisible inverted pyramid. After all, each of us is the product of our ancestors.

I will point out that there are two different kinds of genealogists. There are name gatherers, and then there are family historians. Let me tell you a story about an acquaintance of mine. This is a true story; I couldn’t possibly make this up.

I have known my friend for years. I’ll call her Linda, although that is not her true name. I knew Linda before she became interested in genealogy and even helped coach her a bit when she first started researching her own ancestry. This was many years ago, when I was just beginning my family tree searches as well. At that time, I only knew a little bit more about genealogy than she did.

I only see Linda once every few years. Every time that we meet, the conversation quickly turns to genealogy as we bring each other up to speed on our latest triumphs and failures. I always enjoy talking with Linda. She is bright, articulate, and very enthused about genealogy.

The last time I saw Linda, she proudly announced, “I have almost finished my genealogy!”

I was speechless. I am sure I stood there with my mouth hanging open, blinking my eyes. I don’t recall anyone else every saying they were “finished” with their genealogy searches. How can you be finished? Every time you find one new ancestor, you immediately gain two new puzzles to be solved. I always assumed that genealogy is a never-ending story.

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