Why Do We Do This to Ourselves?
by Don Silvius

Family genealogy is very popular today. Some may wonder why we spend so much time trying to find out all we can about dead people?

We spend hours and hours looking through books, newspapers, microfilms, CD ROMs and surfing the Web just so we can find one name or one date. Then drive hours and hours to visit an old cemetery, and walk for hours and hours more in search of one stone that can barely be read.

Data entry! How many hours are spent entering names and dates and places into a genealogy program? How many more hours are spent double-checking this information for accuracy? The more information that is collected, the more time needs to be spent entering and checking.

I personally have been researching, collecting and entering for over seven years. My genealogy database contains over 12,000 people and 4,000 marriages. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I think that inside each of us is a desire to know where we came from. Some suppress it, some don't. Those who don't are the family genealogist!

If your great great grandfather was a Civil War veteran and distinguished himself in battle, would you want to know? If one of your ancestors crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower, would you want to know? Which of your ancestors do you look like? If a group of your ancestors had a specific medical problem, for example, heart disease, would that influence the lifestyle you lead? That's a lot of questions. Some can be answered by family history.

It's a truly unique and indescribable feeling to stand in a place where, say, 175 years ago, your ancestors stood at the funeral of one of their loved ones. Or to stand in a church where your ancestors were married. It is also special to walk through the house where your parents or grandparents were born.

Genealogy is a personal thing, but these "personal" experiences can be conveyed to others through photographs and documents. At a family Christmas Eve dinner, I used a laptop computer with several hundred scanned, captioned photos, to running a "slideshow". This was a way to let the entire fifty plus people see what I had been up to with that old box of photos I had carried around.

With these photos, we could see that this cousin's children all looked like Grandma's family, and the other cousin's children looked like Grandfather's family. We could see that the people with dark hair all inherited it from this branch of the family or that one. It is amazing that sometimes a child, when only a year or two old, can look so much like a grandparent at the same age. When the elder family members see some of the photographs, memories are sparked and sometimes the stories that are told are just too incredible to believe. That's a fun thing about genealogy. That is your history.

I have found blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, lawyers, even shepherds in my family's history. They've lived in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, England, Germany, Switzerland, and the list goes on. I know that I now live on property that was owned by my great grandparents. My great great great grandparents may also have owned this same property. This may seem like trivial information, but, as I said before, that's my personal history. It's also my parents' personal history, and their parents, and so on.

So why do we do this to ourselves? I can only answer for myself. I do this for my father, who died in 1992. I do it for my mother, who is still living, but lost her mother when she was five years old. I do it for my grandparents, two of whom I never met, and all their parents and grandparents before them. I want my children and their children to know who they are and where they came from.

I can memorialize those who came and went before me. I know that they were real people with interesting lives, who had the same trials and problems that we have today. They are now more than just names.

Making that connection to a distant ancestor is a very special and personal thing. At that point, a light goes on that illuminates a whole new world that wasn't there before.

That is why we do this to ourselves.

Return to Shenandoah County GenWeb Project

Originally published at An Appalachian Country Rag in March 1999
Created March 29 2001
Updated April 14 2006
© 1999, 2000, 2006, Don Silvius