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Why is Genealogy so important?
 

I’ve been asked several times why I research my family history – why genealogy is even important. I have been considering an appropriate response for a while now and finally came up with one I thought was good enough to post.

History

Before answering why the study of genealogy is important though, I have to first tackle why history, itself, is important. In school we take history classes from the earliest grades all the way through to college. Why? We study history to understand societies and the people who belong in those societies. Here in America, it is important for one to understand the American Revolution in order to grasp why we celebrate the 4th of July, why we so often cite the Bill of Rights, or why we hold such an abstract idea as freedom on such a high pedestal.

The study of history also helps us to identify the changes within a society that led it to being what it is in the present. How can one understand why the South is different from the rest of the country and why it’s culture is unique, without first knowing about the events leading up to and resulting from the Civil War?

Another very good reason we study history is because “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We look at the past under a moral microscope, so we can learn from the failures and atrocities of the societies from around the world. Once we understand what led up to the enslavement of millions of Africans, the Trail of Tears, and the holocaust – we can take steps as a society to make sure those things do not happen again.

Genealogy/Family History

It is easy to see why the study of history is important, so why is it so difficult for some people to see the importance of the study of genealogy? Genealogy research is often written off as being a hobby – something with little to no importance to the outside world. This view point of my life’s passion has often bothered me, so today I’d like to set the record straight.

Let’s start with the more talked about reasons the study of genealogy is important. The study of genealogy is important, because it can help an individual identify with their family, culture, and heritage. By taking a look at the roots of one’s family tree – they can see why their family belongs to a particular faith, make them appreciate a family name that has been passed down through the generations, or understand how they came to live in a certain area. These things can all give a person the feeling of being bonded to their family as well as give them a better understanding of their own identity.

Another highly discussed reason for the importance of genealogy is medical history. By studying the medical records and deaths of those in one’s family – a picture begins to emerge of what a person may be at medical risk for. Cancer, strokes, and heart disease all rank high among the list of things that tend to take the lives of my family members. I am also aware that depression has played a large role in the history of my family by knowing we have high suicide rates and a lot of individuals who were hospitalized in various mental health facilities. It’s also in this way that I know how high my risk is of suffering from dementia later in life. Having this kind of information can help one lead their life in a manner catered to optimizing their own health and could ultimately save their life or the life of a loved one.

There is also the legal aspect to the study of genealogy, which is no longer as important as it once was (but it still helps from time to time). Have you ever considered what happens to a person’s belongings when they die intestate without a living heir? I, personally, have granted an attorney permission to view my Ancestry.com family tree to help them find living family members of an elderly relative who passed away in this manner.

Everything I’ve listed above are all what I consider to be very good reasons that genealogy is important, but those aren’t reasons genealogy should be academically accepted. I started this post by explaining the importance of history to academics… now let me explain why I believe genealogy is just as important:

History is an overall look at how the events of the past created, affected, and changed a society. The study of genealogy or family history (I’m using the terms interchangeably here – yes, I’m aware that there is a difference) is a look at the individuals who partook in the events of history and how those events affected their lives. The study of one’s genealogy helps one to further grasp the events of history. It is easy to remember the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of 1918 killed thousands of people here in America, but one can understand the true severity of it when they’ve pulled up dozens of death certificates showing how this epidemic effected their own family. We all know that slavery is a mortifying truth that once played a role in the daily lives of America’s citizens, but it is easier to sympathize with the plight of a slave after reading the journals of those who survived to see freedom. In a way, the study of genealogy is a form of micro-history and it can bolster one’s understanding of past events.

An Even Better Question than Why is Genealogy Important

I, personally, believe the study of genealogy and family history is very important. I can’t understand the opposing view-point and I’d like to ask those who write genealogists and their research off so easily: Why isn’t genealogy important? Can you give me a legitimate reason that my research is trivial enough to labeled as a hobby? Can you give me even one good reason that the study of the people who played roles in history’s events are any less important than the events themselves?

 
 
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