"Why do you do genealogy?"

In October 1997, I posted this question to the Roots-L list, and true to form, the members of that on-line community came through.

Because their responses have added so much to my enjoyment of this "obsession," I include them here along with my original post. The answers are funny, sad, touching, insightful, inspiring, sometimes similar but always unique -- not unlike the people you find in your family tree.

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X-Message: #32
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 20:30:44 -0500
From: Bill Merklee <[email protected]>
Subject: Why do you do genealogy?

Hi everyone,

I may be asking for more e-mail than I can handle, but here goes:

I'm working on an article about genealogy, and I was wondering why people engage in this pursuit in the first place.

For me, since my lines go back to the early 1600s in North America, genealogy personalizes history for me; I feel a closer connection to the events I read about in school. It also gives my wife and I a sense of perspective. When we read about the hardships, tragedies, and triumphs of our ancestors, it makes us realize how relatively easy we have it, and how fortunate we are. And it gives us a real sense of debt and gratitude.

I'm not looking to use any names. I'd just like to hear other rooters' reasons for this shared obsession. Maybe these responses could be posted to the list; I'm sure it would be interesting reading for all.


Bill Merklee

At first, I did genealogy because my parents dragged me into it, with me kicking and screaming and hollering, "No! No! No! No! No!"

But, after a little while, I discovered that our genealogy project was actually a WEAPON! Yes indeed.

At last I could ask common questions like, "What did you do in The War, daddy?" and get an answer. I had never gotten any answer to a question as simple as that before. And, I found out, after all these eons, how my own ears got messed up (I got pneumonia in Mammoth Cave, age 1 or 2). Secret: Genextortion. No answers from mom and dad, then fine, I quit. Finally... Power!

Actually, of course, the whole exercise, other than my own questions, is a matter of saving the oral history of our family, in an extremely late, almost beyond the last minute catch, before the older generations are gone. For example, the guardian of the family lore on my father's side has Alzheimer's disease. I started getting his data just this year, without knowing about his disease. Turns out, next year would have been too late.

I have fantasies about our own young, new generations using our genealogy materials in their school history classes -- because we pretty much cover the map, north of the Mason-Dixon Line, for a very long time, back to the 1600's. I don't know if such will ever be, although I do know that the typing and proofreading is a big pain.

Why do I do the genealogy agony? Because it gives me a lever to pry simple questions about me out of my own parents. What do my parents and I have in common here? We now know that, if the family history is to be saved at all, this late, with the old folks passing on, the time is now or never, and we want to save what we can while we can. If, years from now, someone in the next generation wants to REALLY dig into the family stuff, at least we must give him or her a good, solid, scaffolding from which to begin, preferably with lots of interesting family stories too.

There are a lot of nifty things that could be lost forever. For example, Buster Keaton's classic old silent film, "The General," was filmed in my grandparents' home town in Oregon. To the next generation, that would be the great-grandparents. Who would ever guess this? Unless it was an interesting item saved for them. YES, I am looking for a VCR copy of "The General."

I have lately also been doing genealogy to try to help some other families, not related to me, get back together again after huge separations. Some success here. That gets even more satisfaction than my own stuff.

Lester Powers

Tomorrow will be the beginning of my 69th year. I lost my parents thirty years ago, my sister when she was 33, and brothers before they were 5. No family except my two daughters, I feel like "The Last of the Mohicans."

I do genealogy to leave a mark. I would hate to think we pass through this lifetime without leaving some sort of a mark so that other people know we passed. I continue to work on the genealogy, send it to Salt Lake as a means of leaving that mark.

To top it all off, it's fun and educational. Look at how much you find out about history and geography, besides it keeps me off the streets.

Bud Miner

In response to your question, my research started out as a simple quest to find out what nationalities I am "composed" of. I had been told that I was German, Irish, English, American Indian, Black Dutch, Mexican, et al.

Once I got started on my research, it soon became a matter of could I ever find who my ancestors were, let alone where did they come from. After 6 plus years of research I still haven't found much on my Fathers side. I have had very good success on my Mothers side.

What started out as a "simple" project has now become all consuming. One of the nicest things to happen from this research is I now spend hours and hours talking to my parents about my "finds" as opposed to talking about their health.

The bottom line is I now enjoy playing detective and sharing my finds with any and all relatives who care to have the information.

Wayne Thomas

I can echo almost everything you said. I have always been a history buff and as you will see below on my website, I perceive great mutual enhancement of the two disciplines when pursued together. But my great driving force was trying to understand the incomprehensible dynamics of my family--you know, the standard dysfunctions, but when you are a kid growing up in the midst of irrationality....nothing seemed so important as trying to understand the whys and wherefores. And tracing the roots of various issues has been very helpful. Finally, I just plain love a good mystery and this is my chance to play detective!

Marge Jodoin

I do genealogy for several reasons. I took care of my parents for 4 years. First my mom died but I still had my dad. Then my dad died and although I still had my four year old son to take care of my life had a big hole in it. My mother had done her side back to 1645 and had started my dad's. I have an extreme need to keep my dad with me and by researching his family I can do that. I can keep him in the forefront of my mind and noone is telling me to get over him dieing.

Good luck on your article.

Cilla Baier

I believe that my interest in genealogy was sparked when (as a teenager) I found out that my mother was adopted. My father's parents had died before I was born and mother's adopted family was the only 'family' I ever knew. Her adopted family was wonderful. I have many fond memories of 'Granny' and 'Grandpop', which of course, are too numberous to mention.....but I always wanted to find my ROOTS!

Maureen (Knapp) De Bolle

Why, why indeed. I enjoy it. To tell other people why is difficult. I like puzzles, solvable problems, the kind of history the digging entails. For my wife it is more of an addiction, or as you say an obsession. It seems like we have climbed about every set of courthouse steps in the Southeast but we'll keep on as long as we can. I fear your article will not be convincing to those who don't enjoy it. Even though we have both worked our way back to where it is more and more difficult and almost all of my wife's ancestors are in Great Britain we still continue. History was not one of my best subjects in school but now I enjoy the part that relates to mine. Like you it is interesting to compare standards of living. I'm a survivor; a son of survivors, and etc. Makes me proud.

Pleasure, puzzle solution with a personal flavor, and we do travel a little more than we would have.

Happy hunting,

Gil Murray

Two years ago I gave a speech to a group of business owners on "why genealogy". I posted the same question to the group. Here are some of the reasons I listed not necessarily in order and not necessarily complete as it is from memory:

1. Curiosity and feeling connected with ones roots (finding oneself)

2. Forensics - i.e. finding living descendants or closest living relatives for legal reasons (e.g. for property disposition of those who died intestate)

3. Genetics - inherited diseases or traits for psychological research/treatment

4. Memberships in organizations such as Mayflower Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, United Empire Loyalists, etc. (sense of belonging)

Good luck on your article.



In response to what initiated my genealogy fever, I have the following reply:

When I was 20 yrs. old [am now 67] my fiance took me to meet his great uncle, a snobbish retired physician with no "class". This old geezer then proceded to admonish me to be proud to be marrying into the distinguished old Hunt family. Well, swallowing my tongue, and controlling my temper, I wondered if he thought my parents had just swung down from the trees. My parents were immigrants from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I had met my grandfather MUSICK from PEI but had never met gparents IRVING from Nova Scotia. Let me tell you, I am curious, and that curiosity spurred a 40+ year search for ancestors of both my husband and myself. Imagine my surprise, when our lines crossed a few generations back, showing my mother, the immigrant, a 6th cousin to my husband, yankee blueblood. Since that time, I have mellowed and would not now push my Mayflower ancestry in Uncle Allston's face - well, maybe. Genealogy is a never ending hobby, enriching both the searcher and her/his heirs with the tales of hardship, perserverance, bravery of those who went before. I have been able to trace my husband's family back to 420AD, but on my side, only to 1500s. But it's the "knowing who you are" feeling that is important and soooo satisfying.

Happy Hunting

Joanne Hunt

There are two questions here for me--Why did I start? and Why do I continue?

Some years back I purchased Family Ties for Windows on sale. I imagined spending several hours with it and having one of these nice family charts to put on the wall. I knew absolutely nothing about genealogy. A year or so went by and I did not use it. That is until I decided to go home for an obligatory family visit. Family visits for me were/are not the exciting event that they are for some. They turn out to be "organ recitals." Aunt Bess has gall stones, Uncle Bill has heart trouble, etc. etc. ad nauseum, etc.

Upon hearing that my visit was spurring a family reunion of sorts, and knowing what to expect, I decided at the last moment to collect info for that pretty wall chart. I had heard of family for years while growing up, and it had gone in one ear and out the other. This would be a good time to get all that information together to feed into the computer. That should be no problem at all. Little did I know of the response I would get.

The first response from the large group was stone cold silence. It was as if I had asked for a loan or something. I had broken with family tradition. I suspect everyone came loaded with their organ recital stories and when I broke with tradition, they were unprepared.

The second response was that their stories of family members were not complete and were not in agreement with one another. After all my growing up years of hearing of various family members I was astonished that there was not a comprehensive, family story that everyone could agree on. So I left the visit committed to spending the next few weeks "getting" the true story down on paper.

Well, weeks have turned into months and months have turned into years and I am still "getting" the story. I am still trying to find if the family legends are truthful or not. I am still trying to get past the legend to see the history.

There are a number of things that keep me into genealogy. One is that I enjoy the challenge of research. I enjoy research and I enjoy the challenge.

I guess it is also something no one else does that well. I did some research this last summer in Nebraska at the county court house and invited my uncle along who should have known the records inside. He knew nothing of the records. I dazzled him with the kinds of things I was able to find about the family homestead. He did not know the records and I had invited him along to help me. So I have a family nitch(Sp?).

Thirdly, some of the legends are downright fascinating. I keep hoping that I can prove them. It would be great to do so.

Fourthly, this has given family gatherings a more interesting twist to them. I can now look forward to getting with the family without fear of organ recitals. At least in my presence, the agenda has changed.

Finally, have you watched a night of TV recently. For me this is a much more interesting avocation and hobby. It gets me away from the boob tube.

Ken Nelson

I just thought you'd like to know what happens to genealogists...an addiction takes over. Enjoy...

Barbara Kruse




Reprinted from the Aberdeen & North East Scotland Family History Society Journal No. 64 (August 1997)

You know you're an Addicted Genealogist!

- when you brake for libraries

- when you get locked in the library overnight and never even notice

- when you hyperventilate at the sight of an old cemetery

- if you'd rather browse in a cemetery than a shopping mall

- when you think every home should have a microfilm reader

- if you'd rather read census schedules than a good book

- when you know the town clerk in every county by name

- if the town clerks lock the door when they see you coming

- when you're more interested in what happened in 1797 than 1997

- if you store your clothing under the bed and your closet is carefully stacked with notebooks and journals

- if you can pinpoint Kirkcaldy and Inverness on a map but you're not sure if Whitehorse is in the Yukon or Northwest Territories

- when all of your correspondence begins "Dear Cousin"

- if you've traced your ancestral lines back to Adam and Eve, have it all fully documented, and still don't want to quit!!

Years ago before Noah and the ark, my grandparents played a very large part of raising my sister and I. My mom was divorced from my dad and we depended on our maternal grandpartents for summers. They were very aware of who they were. Especially my grandfather. He could tell you his line all the way back to early 1700's. I have always been interested in the stories he told. And they lived near where most of the ancestors had lived. So I was aware of my roots at a very early age.

What actually got me started on doing the research and getting the dates,etc, was my Mom. She died in 1989. And two week later my stepfather died. We had to go thru everything. I found papers that my Mom had started doing on the family. She had names and some dates and alot of blanks. At the end of these little chicken track trees, she had two lines that said "F" and "S". I put the papers away and went to bed. But I woke up at least 5 times that night trying to figure out what she had meant. I pulled out the old REICH Family Bible and looked thru it.

Somewhere about 4 am I realized that the "F" and "S" stood for Frances and Shirley. My sister and I. This is when I realized how important this had been for my Mom.

So to be honest---I do genealogy to be closer to my Mom, because I understood so much of it before I started, because I love a mystery, and love to solved them. But I think most of all I do it because it is addictive. I can't not do it.

I am retired. And I have some physical handicaps, not critical, but limiting. And I can do this day after day and I meet such nice people. Everyone wants to help. I have made lasting friendships, and have foundmany cousins. And this work keeps me on my toes. I may not be able to get around much but my mind is as sharp as ever. And my kids think I am a wiz because Granny loves to surf the net.

Shirley Harvey, Buchanan, Binkley, Reich, Dull, Lowder, Livengood, Hoehns, Lagenauer, Burri, Zbinden, Greer, Bryant, Tolleson, Miller, Schneider, Schuck, Michael

Thanks for asking.

I do genealogy for more than one reason.

1. The begining started with my youngest child. He had to do a pedigree chart in school as a history project and to be shown at parents night at school. It went 3 generation on most of his lines with the maiden names of most of his great grand mothers being unknown. It was embarassing when others had their lines shown back to the 1700 to 1500's,

2. I have been married twice, first time to a Stephen J. Shockey and second time to a Stephen F. Shockey. They never knew each other but both had family ties in New York and Indiania. I wanted to see if they were related in any way. I was able to trace them to a common ancestor. The first SHOCKEY in America (Johann Christofel SCHACKE) aka: John Christopher Shockey. They each descended from one of his seven sons.

3. I was adopted twice, first by a step-father and then by an uncle after the death of my mother. I met my biological father when I was 27 years old, we have had a relationship for the last 19 years. He never even knew his grandfathers name and became interested when he found out all that I had learned on my mother's line (which by the way was very little at that time) I decided to make it a gift to him, by finding out who his grandfather was. In doing that, I have traced his line back to two families on the Mayflower!... I found his grandfather and his great-grandfather on my first trip to a Family History Center on my first attempt at researching on my own.

Needless to say I was hooked after that!


Nancy Colby Hylla Hawkins Shockey Shockey

The query was made--Why do genealogy. I am trying to locate any natural brothers or sisters that I might have. My Father and Mother were separated before I was born and I was raised by a loving stepfather and my real Mother. However, I've always wondered about my Father. I know where He was in 1938, but I can't find any trace of Him after that.

Also the history facinates me. How people went from one side of our country to the other with the slow moving vehicles--how they existed--what their trials, loves, and happinesses were, etc.

Priscilla Delventhal

Because it's absolutely fascinating! My family, too, arrived in the 1600's and so the history of my family *is* the history of North America (I have Canadian ancestors, too.) I have the privilege of a sense of having been a part of things.

Enjoy your own research!

Elizabeth Richardson

I started genealogy over 25 years ago when my mother made the statement I sure wish I knew what happened to my father. Her father disappeared from southern Montana in 1909 or 1910. Her mother had died in 1908. 25 years later I still don't know what happened to my grandfather after he left Montana. All of this has lead from a hobby to an obbsession. I have information concerning my g-grandparents and generations before them, but still missing my grandfather. My mother died about 13 years ago and I am still waiting for her to give me a sign as to what happpened to her father.

Like you I feel connected to my ancestors. I like to know the history and life they lead. I am fortunate that I have a couple of journals that tells about there lives on a day to day bases.

Sharon Reinhardt

I know that psychologically speaking, people do genealogy to feed the soul. It is a way to look at the past that warms the heart. There are many other ways to feed the soul as well. From what I've learned, digging into the past is a way to put your life into perspective. It is also a way of coming to terms with ones own mortality. Most people don't think about it these ways, but they can be a subconscious reason for doing genealogy.

Personally, I do it to try to see where I came from. When I found out that I am partly descended from a Scottish Clan, it made clear why my family is loud, argumentative and very clannish. We don't even have to like our relatives, but if we are blood, we will help them out and welcome them into our homes. Being from a clan is also the reason we move in groups. If one family member moves, the whole family moves within a few years. Here in the 20th century, the moving together has lessened some, but most stay in the same geographic region.

I also like to walk where my ancestors walked. I feel a great sense of connectedness and continuity when I go to areas where my family lived. To touch to boards of a church that my gg-grandfather donated, or see the old oak tree where my grandfather played, or the old outhouse where my father had to go in the winter, these are just very centering experiences for me.

I started doing my family tree after my daughter was born. At that time, I just wanted to be able to give her and my son the rich history that comes from centuries of family. I wanted them to know and love who they are, and where they came from. I wanted them to be able to see that today is only fleeting.

Sorry I rambled on. Hope this helps,

Lorna Ellis

You asked why people get into genealogy.

For me, growing up I was always aware that there was a family history. I had a great grandfather who didn't die until 1969, I was 21 years old and he was 102, sharp as a tack. Great-grandpa Joe, used to tell us stories about 'the good old days'. He had done a very crude genealogy of his family and everyone in the family received a copy. (Other pieces of family research, some begun in the 1930s also made the family rounds.) Until he died, he wrote a nostalgia column for his local newspaper. So, from around the age of 10, I was made aware of the fact that my family had predecessors.

When my 20 year-old son and only child (the last of his father's family name) got married and then announced a few months later that they were expecting their first child, I began thinking about legacies. I wanted to leave him and his children something that couldn't be exhausted, something that would enrich their lives, continue to grow and stir their imaginations. To me, a binder or two filled with family history (documents, letters, newspaper articles, photos, auto-biographies, biographies and the like), so that they could know about their progenitors, who contributed to the gene pool that produced them, seemed to fit the bill. And in that way, when one of them realized he or she had a predisposition for something that no one else in the family appeared to have, they could look back upon the collection and understand their connection to the greater whole, and thereby instilling a sense of belonging. I can think of few greater gifts than this, a sense of belonging and knowing from whence you came to assist you in where you are going.

And so I began my research last April. My first grandchild was born last Saturday night and the genealogy continues to grow.


When this thread ran on Roots-L last year, the following was posted by Ardis Parshall.

I have her permission to use it, as long as her name and comments are included, wherever it may be of significance. I was most impressed by her viewpoint and can only say that she voiced my feelings also, but much better than I could. Here it is in its entirety;

"At the risk of being labeled a lunatic and/or religious nut, I want to add a dimension to this discussion that some others have only hinted at. C.S. Lewis described a feeling he called the 'numinous', which is a sense of awe, a feeling that you are in the presence of something or someone beyond the normal. At one extreme, this might be what believers in ghosts or UFOs experience. At another extreme, it approaches religious ecstasy or vision.

To me (probably another extreme), there is frequently a feeling of the numinous when I am searching for ancestors, who sometimes seem to want to be found as much as I want to find them. I don't feel alone when I am working on some branches.

Many (maybe most, if you would admit it) have had the experience of rewinding a microfilm because the library is about to close, and stopping for no particular reason -- only to see your missing grandmother's maiden name in the middle of that page. Or you will be walking through the book stacks where someone one row over is shoving a book back in, which causes a book in your row to fall onto the floor -- and open to the page showing the marriage record of your grandfather. Or you will be in a strange city, and ask a store clerk for directions, when she will notice a name on the file you are carrying and tell you that it is her family. All of these "coincidences" have happened to me.

On one trip, I got turned around going back from Canandaigua to Rochester, New York, and got off the bus, after dark, at the wrong place. It turned out I was in a very dangerous part of town, on the opposite side of the river from where I thought I was, and was loaded down with records and wearing heels so I couldn't move fast. If my mother had known, she would have been scared out of her wits. But I didn't have the slightest fear; I knew I wasn't alone, and I knew I would be all right because I hadn't yet found what I was looking for: the family of a man who had often seemed to be just over my shoulder, watching and helping me find him.

Once you have experienced the numinous, you are almost addicted -- you can't wait to feel that tingle on your spine again. That keeps you going even during dry spells in your research.

OK, folks -- send in the straightjackets, the exorcists, or whatever else you propose as a cure. But please do it by private e-mail.

And I would love to hear from others who have felt the numinous, but who don't care to share it with the whole list. I'll bet there are a lot more of us than most would believe.



Patricia L. CHILDS

I am the very tender age of 54, soon, too soon, to be 55. Last spring I decided to do my genealogy since I have only 4 remaing close relatives, my mother and my 3 sons. Since we all grew up in a very disfunctional family we barely speak to each other and my mother doesn't speak to us. I just knew that there had to be other "family" out there in the world who I didn't know. Through this search I have found my father's cousin who is really wonderful and filled in lots of gaps in the family history. I have also "met" several other "cousins" who are super nice...3 of whom may become my favorites!

I have given my reasons for searching, or researching, my ancestry some thought. Meeting my relatives through email and letters is very safe. Not one of them critisizes me, is involved in trying to resolve deeply rooted family issues, they are not back biting and petty except for a typo error :-) when sending genea data, there are no expectations or serious faults.

None care that I am over weight, that I haven't made a million or that my home is not the way they would decorate it. They are happy with me and for me in the tiny forward advances that I discover about my past...ahh if the future would be as easy!

Our family traces its roots back to the 1600's and I find that I enjoy, as you do, the personalized history. I read the current obituaries, too. I read them for the historical significance each of the member of the past had to offer rather than for any morbid interest.

Good luck on your article. I would like to read the finished product.

Susan St. John Orvis

I began genealogy so I could find out about my grandparents families. My mother told me about her father being married twice and each time she gave a different story about his first wife and family. She died and left one daughter. I also wanted to know just how 2 ladies were related to my grandfather. They said they were cousins but didn't know anything else, just what their parents had told them.

On my father's side I had several cousins in the area, but my grandmother always said they were cousins or her nephew or neice, but didn't give any other information. Some of the relationships I figured out, but others I asked and asked, but didn't get any reasonable information.

My mother and Aunt gave me a sheet of paper with their father's parents on one side and their mother's parents and siblings on the other. They told me when they gave me the sheet that that was all the family information I would need. I now have 12=15 notebooks and a file drawer full of information. I am now reorganizing my information so I can find it easier and to look at some of the old search information. I have found things I copied from books early in my research that didn't seem to fit anywhere, but now it fits or gives a clue to another way to search.

I do genealogy to find out about where my family is from and to prove or disprove any family stories. I have found that if I link my family to certain people or certain areas where they originated, that I can give my grandchildren sources for applying for college scholarships.

I hope this can help your research

Virginia Severns

For me the genealogy bug bit me by way of a history class assignment in high school. When I told my parents of the assignment they both said, 'Well Aunt or Uncle so-and-so has a lot of that information, all we have to do is write them and get it.'

It was the first time history became interesting. Before, I had the childish notion that none of this pertains to me so why bother? My two sisters have always been willing listeners when I spoke of my findings and research but were never really wanting to get into it. A couple of years ago we went off on a "three-sisters weekend" (no husbands or kids allowed, lots of talking and giggling) We decided to find Berryman, Mo. our maiden name is Berryman. That took a couple of hours of driving and when we got there both city limits signs were on the same post! Didn't take long to visit the city. Then we went to Arcadia, Mo. remembering that there was some family link there. Of course I didn't have any of my genealogy papers with me. We found an old family cemetery, the surname wasn't ours but rang a bell. There was a house behind it so we asked the man who lived there who tended this cemetery. He told us and also told us where the man lived. So we went to his house and knocked on the door. He not only shared family history with us, he took us on a tour of the area wherein he showed us where the reb's marched up the lane when they came for the battle of Pilot Knob. He showed us the little house which was the first school in the Arcadia Valley. Our GGG aunt taught there. He showed us the house where she lived, having married his GGG uncle. He also showed us the old Berryman family home.

The next day we went to the Iron County Historical Society. When we opened the front door to the little building, the first thing we saw, straight in front of us about 12 feet from the front door was a portrait of our GGG Grandfather (about 4'x 6'). My reaction to it was immediate and as I commented to the lady who greeted us, it was the most pleasant looking picture of him I had ever seen. He was almost smiling. She had seen some old diaries written by the mother of a lady that had recently died. The writer had talked about hearing our GGG grandfather, the Reverend Mr. Berryman, sing from clear across the valley at a camp meeting he was conducting. She said his voice was beautiful and oh, so powerful.

Genealogy is about enabling our ancestors to live again. It is history, but very personal history. The people who really made us who we are and this country what it is, were not only the ones the history books record. They are our people, with much the same needs and wants as we, the same faults and foibles. I guess, for me it is much like Pogo would say..."I have met our ancestors, and they are us!"

Wishing you many successful hours without writers-block.

Barbara Kidwell

I have the same thoughts as yours but I think my reason was to find personality traits, likes, dislikes, talents that could be traced down through the generations. I was attending a family due and as I watched the younger generations I found myself comparing them and finding that some had strong resemblances to aunts or uncles, others had talents which seemed to come from nowhere. So I decided to find out. Did all our creative talent come from one branch? Why is my brother a piper and the other brother likes Irish music?

One thing lead to another and now I am addicted.

Pat Wheeler

Hope you aren't swamped with mail already! I started genealogy because my mother died when I was 14 years old. It was my way of connecting with her past, and learning what made her who she was.

Now it's just a simple addiction!! <G> Do you know if there is a 12 step program to help overcome my addiction? If there is, I want to be sure to AVOID IT!! <G>

Carol Moody

I started genealogy searching for 2 reasons. One is that I am a librarian and was working in the Historical Collections

dept. of my library. I had always been interested in history and helping genealogy researchers even in the library I had been in before that did not have a well established and maintained collection. That was why I took the job in the new library. The satisfaction that I felt in helping people find information and the joy and satisfaction that they experienced, along with my patrons strong encouragement, got me "hooked". My second reason is that both my parents had died relatively young, my husband had just had a very serious health condition that he miraculously survived and I realized during the long hours and days in the hospital that I felt very "alone". I am an only child and have only one first cousin (a real rarity I know!) I do have 3 wonderful children but I felt the need for family that I could lean on, and my children had their fears to deal with and needed me. Searching for ancestors has made me feel less alone and more connected. I hope that makes some kind of sense.

Diane Kurtz

I got into it thru the back door...in 1975 the local DAR was going to place a plaque with all the names on a centennial memorial...I had a 14 year old daughter that a customer of mine thought ought to have her name on that plaque as a CAR member..she started asking questions about my family..and of course I new very little...so to get her off my back I started asking other family members for information..we dug up one old Bible and that was about all..this lady was too old to drive at night , so on a couple of ocassions I drove her to the state archives (they used to stay open 2 nights a week)...never did get daughter in CARs but started me hunting..for me it's like a giant murder mistery....who am I gonna find tomorrow, etc....been looking for John S. Savage ever since 1975..still don't know birthday or parents or sibling..this is probably more than you wanted but you asked and you recieved...also since my wife died 2 years ago the e-mails kill a couple of hours each night for me.

Jim Savage

I have two reasons for doing Genealogy/Family History.

1) Religious

2) Fun

Religious, because I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that people who do not, or have not had the opertunity to hear the gospel in this life, will have the oppertunity to hear it in the next. As we believe that people must be baptised, and babtism is an earthly ordinance, we need to identify our Ancesters.

Fun, because it is a challange to try and locate our ancesters. It is stimulating to the mind, it gives one a real buzz when you find someone you've been looking for. You don't need to take drugs or alcohol to get a high just do your Family Tree, it will give you all the "highs" you want.


Until ten years ago, I had no knowledge of my father's family beyond my grandparents. I had been told we were of Indian descent -- that fascinated me and I wanted to learn more about it. Well, I learned more, and learned that in all likelihood there is no Indian blood at all. However, in the course of these years I have been able to trace my father's family back to 1530 in England. I have become obsessed, as you say, and now am in pursuit of other branches of the family.

Part of it is a desire to know how ancestors lived all those years ago and part of it is that there is a puzzle to solve. I think I may be a thwarted researcher.

Virginia Edwards

Why I Do Genealogy

"I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me, those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front, to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes.

As I felt, so they had felt, and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning, and no end. And the hand of his father grasped my father's hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was, to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, made in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father."

Extracted from the work of Richard Llewellyn "How Green Was My Valley"

This sums it all up for me.

Anne M. Adams


Some people ask hard questions. Why do people do genealogy research? I hadn't given it much thought until that question was asked.

I think for me, genealogy is more of a feeling than a thought. I had a wonderful relationship with my grandmother, who was born in 1891. In the early 40's I spent every minute I could with her and my grandfather on their farm. I guess I am very nostalgic, because when I think of her, I think of a much simpler, although much harder life. They worked very hard, and were rewarded with the "knowing" that they had accomplished what was necessary for them to provide for their family.

I loved to watch her crochet, quilt, can, preserve, garden; she instilled such enthusiaism for these things in me. I can just visualize her sitting heaven in her rocking chair, crocheting.

My grandmother didn't talk much about her childhood. I wish I had asked many more questions (don't we all). I know she would have answered every one of them. She was a very patient, and kindhearted person. When she died in 1975, her church named their new children's wing, The Grannie West Wing. She was well loved.

Doing genealogy research makes me feel somehow closer to her. She was so strongly family oriented. Her very last thoughts were of going to her family reunion on Petie Jean Mtn. in Arkansas. Her family came thousands of miles to attend every spring. I am looking forward to attending my first one next spring.

Perhaps this doesn't answer the question very well, but I love discovering who my ancestor were, and how they lived. Having lived in the 40's, and knowing the simpler way of life, puts very early life in this country in perspective for me.

Myra Chambers

I would like to respond to your ROOTS note, wherein you asked why we do genealogy. I originally started researching my paternal side of my tree simply because no one seemed to know anything past my grandfather's name and birthday.....When I started I did not think that I would get past the beginning of this century , but once I begin to find and accumulate information, I couldn't stop.....Everytime that I fould one piece of evidence on the family, four more questions would appear. So off I would go again in search of the next batch of answers. I think that my reason for getting into genealogy was simply, "I had to know" the answers to the all of the questions I had asked as a child and was told nothing.

Now in reference to why my husband has an interest in genealogy...His reasons are a little different than mine. Before he was six weeks old, he was given by his mother to her sister, who raised him. His mother was in and out of his life,so he knew her somewhat, but as far as a father was concerned.....all he had was a birth certificate with three clues....his father's name, the fact that he was a soldier in WWII, and the state where the man called home. We took those three pieces of evidence and were able to piece together a little bit of a tree for my husband. My husband does genealogy, trying to find somebody somewhere who will tell him more about the man who was his father. By the way, we did find his father's brother, but he didn't want to discuss it. Poor man almost went into shock.....guess I would too, if some 52 year old man called and told me that he was my long lost nephew.

Have a nice day, and I surely would love to hear some of the answers that you recieve.

"Mitakye Oyasin"


"a family is many generations closely woven; that though the generations may die, they endure as part of the fabric of the family;....... We carry the dead generations within us and pass them on to the future aboard our children. This keeps the people of the past alive long after we have carried them to the churchyard." - Russell Baker

This is why I do genealogy. We are all a product of our past and our ancestors make us our past and to know them is to know ourselves.

Lorraine R. Friberg

Started by my mother-in-law I need something mutual to share with her besides my husband. Then I got hooked, now when asked I have additional reasons: I want the medical history of the family. Found the source of many twins, part of the family shut out one member because she didn't know where the twins came from so she assumed" bad blood." Next I found one ofmy cousins had a hemophiliac in her family. This is a long sad story. Next we have lots of cancer victims in my family. I think we owe it to our great grandchildren :we must leave them a good medical history. One more reason I was in the military, I am very proud of my military time and I want to see who of my ancestors served our country and if possible who served in other miliitary units. Now you have my answer to the often asked question-"Why do you waste so much time and money on this search for the long dead" I may add it is a good history lesson, but these people just wouldn't get it.


I am adopted. Growing up I never had a connection with the families of my adoptive parents. I loved my parents with all my heart but I didn't look like them, I didn't talk like them and there was always whispering behind my back (they made sure I hear it). "You don't know where she came from!"

Having found my BMom in 1976, I started. It became a compulsion to find out about my heredity. I have the jowls of my BMom. Having found my BDad's family in 1996 I got a picture of him and met two people who knew him. Now I know where my oldest daughter got her green eyes. I wish I had the bibles with inscriptions to read. Why did the families move from Minnesota to Wa state?

I never had the grandma to tell me stories. Now I must rely on what is written in the census and other such history tales to know who I am. I missed so much but I never knew it. At least not until now. I was able to get lots of history on my ex-husbands family. They lived in Evansville, Ind. forever. But now I am able to share part of myself with my children. I will continue with my search until I uncover everything there is to know about my family. Maybe my grandchildren will remember me because I gave them part of their history.

Thank you for asking!


Hi Bill - Just a few thoughts - This morning we had relatives we have never met stop in to meet us. We compared pictures and stories. What wonderful people they are! If it hadn't been for curiosity on my family name and the subsequent search I would never have met these people and all those wonderful stories. I guess that is why I do genealogy - partly nostalgia and partly to hear the stories of my ancestors. I now can understand why my grandmother was aloof and undemonstrative. I see the family resemblences. I guess I can't describe it very well, but all I know is that it gives me a lot of comfort and pleasure. Hope this helps.


I have given this a lot of thought, also. I believe the main reason I am a geneaologist is because it is one more proof of the golden rule and that love, courtesy, and helping one another is not dead. I am constantly astonished at the outpouring of help from all over the world with the beginning of one small sentence: "Can anyone help me find..." Even those of us who take umbrage at something someone says, such as Jesus' geneaology, it is done with softness and with care not to offend.

If we "step into it" and make a faux pas over the protocol of the "net" or ramble on about our folk, there seems to always be patience and kindness from our readers. I knew I had experienced this in court houses and libraries throughout my quests over the last 25 years, but never has it been so immediate and so global as now. It is the feeling of "family".....tears, laughter, frustration, and joy at success, but most of all love. God's love of all his creations: past, present, and future.

I, too, enjoy reading the replies of others. I hope they continue.

Love and Life


I feel that it is really important for us all to have some sense of where we have come from so that we might also have some sense of where we might go. My genealogy work is not just a bunch of names but rather a family history.

My own family includes Quakers, Separatists, Huegenots, and Lutherans converted from Catholics. Years ago when writing a paper for a college level religion class, I used the history of those groups and the immigration my ancestors undertook because of their beliefs to describe how religion had affected my family and how, through my knowledge of this background I could better appreciate that indeed my faith was the "Faith of My Fathers". A little corny, but true.

For my young cousin's wedding a couple of years ago, I prepared a traditional family tree including his grandfather (my uncle, which I already had) and his grandmother (by interviewing my aunt). I combined the family stories into a narrative and pointed out similarities in their lives and in our modern lives. Examples included: hardships such as a couple who fled the pograms of Russia and traveled to America and around the Horn to San Francisco on a sailing vessel; a young man who ran away from his well-to-do English family and was later found in the Colorado gold rush but rejected the family business to become a cabaret singer in San Francisco (he later did go into their business); a young man who fled the Kaiser's army (draft dodger) by stowing away on a ship; a divorce in the late 1800's due to abandonment and the social stigma and hardships that would have caused the woman and her children; etc. I printed this all on nice paper and had it bound and am pleased to say it was their most appreciated wedding gift.

When contacting dozens of cousins for a reunion, I had a lengthy conversation with one who has been very distanced from the family even though he lives near us all. It turns out that he was angry that his mother (my 1st cousin) did not protect her children from their abusive father and, that over the years, he has had a bad time with depression. I was able to tell him about how beating kids had been culturally acceptable in earlier generations of our family so she probably didn't think to intervene and/or was too frightened to. I was also able to describe a pattern of depression that runs throughout our large family and rather than being "odd", he was actually probably genetically predisposed. He was comforted and encouraged by this new knowledge and hopefully can use it to his advantage in future counseling.

While not my own family, a close friend also does research. Both lines of her family came from the same place in England, settled together in Vermont before the Revolution, and didn't leave until World War II. Here in California, she lives among her mother's kin and is the only short, fat, blond in the entire multi-generation group. She was delighted to research her father's family and discover old photographs of his ancestors who could have been her twins. She also discovered genetic problems [that were being blamed on the wrong line] and was pleased that they had come to California and a new gene pool!

As my children have studied history in school, I point out relatives who were either alive at the time and/or actually involved in historical events. Then we talk about how the event might have affected our relative - kids who were capture by the Indians [because their families were taking Indian land] etc. As a result, they feel much more aware of the how and why things happened AND they remember it so much better.

I have been fortunate to have had a very stable life. You say "home" to me and I picture the home my parents built in 1938 and still live in. You say "church" and I picture the church we attended and that they still go to. You say "community" and the rest of my school life comes into mind. But, because my family valued history, I can also picture the homes where they grew up and the churches they attended in their youth because they have taken me to South Dakota and showed them to me.

I want my children to also have this sense of "home", "church" "community" AND history. They also know my "home" and together, my parents and I took my children back to SD a few years ago and video taped Granny and Grandpa showing them all around. I cannot project where their lives will take them but I know that they will have roots.

Gretchen Kohl

This is not so much why I do genealogy, as the post Anne Adams made can't be said better, but to tell you that while I can understand that too many posts could cause problems, I'm glad you asked the question, and was very grateful some posted to the entire list--I too, found them fascinating and extremely touching.

Just briefly--when my parents passed away, I was devastated. I felt totally lost, "orphaned" and alone, even though I have a lovely brother and sister. Since I've started the genealogy search last April, the greatest thrill of all has been the feeling of "coming closer" yet to my parents, or being able to continue a quest they started, finding relatives, living and dead, we never knew existed. It has astounded me, and every time I find a new "link", I feel them smiling down and saying "good work". That's enough to keep me going right there!

Thanks for getting us thinking about it!

Best regards,


I do genealogy because when I was small my grandma used to lay out all the pictures of relatives. She put them in the shape of a tree, so I could understand who was who & who belonged to who. It fascinated me. She was very family oriented. I started genealogy about 20 years ago; now with computers, it is an almost different hobby. One that I'll probably always be fascinated by.


Wow, ask a loaded question and see where it takes you!

My entry into genealogy began when I found my birth family. I had been adopted at birth, and although the agency matched me to my adoptive family with great care, there were still things that I had interests in, or mannerisms I had, that did not fit with my adoptive family.

My odessy into the past was, and still is, a way for me to discover my heritage, my medical history and a way of acquainting myself with ancestors of whom stories about I missed growing up.

For me, it is gratifying to know that I have an Uncle who ran a junk store (I live in them), or an aunt who was a very liberated women for her time and spoke her mind (Now I know where I get it!), or the great-grandfather who shared the same interest in roses and reading....

My discovery of my past history is a discovery of myself, and an educational guide to know where I am going, where my children and grandchildren are going....that my line did not begin with me.

In this quest of self-discovery, I have found so many "friends" also searching for their roots, for many different and varied reasons, all "right" for them. I gladly give thanks for the gift of my ancestors history and gladly partake in the HONOR of documenting this family from sorrow and tears to rojoicing and love.


Janet Davis

"To live in the hearts we leave behind, is not to die". (Author unknown)

Robert J. Cushing

I never knew any of my grandparents as they died before or shortly after I was born. About 12 years ago a friend asked me to join United Daughters of the Confederacy and I told her that would be no problem as my gr, gr, grandfather from ALABAMA was in the Civil War. Much to my surprise, I found him buried in the Nashville NATIONAL Cemetery. I was so intrigued with this fact that I wanted to know "why" and began my research. In doing this, I became "hooked" and continued the quest for my heritage as each bit of information drew me closer to my ancestors. I now feel like I knew them all. Incidentallly, the reason these men fought for the Union is because they could not fight against a country for which their grandfathers fought, shed blood and died. They refused to fire on "Old Glory", the flag of their forefathers!

Glenda McWhirter Todd

I started doing Genealogy to get a sense of family. My parents divorced when I was 6. My father raised me and 2 brothers. In the late 50's and early 60-'s this was almost unheard of. I always wanted to know about my family. I got some info from my aunt but never did anything with it.

I then went to work at thhe local library and started in the Special Collections. This was Genealogy and Gov't Documents. Surrounded by all this information I got out that little info I had and started. I have found one side all the way back to the ship they came over on in 1734.

But I can't find my grandfather who disappeared off the face of the earth after my uncle was born in 1933. He is supposed to be Cherokee.

My grandmother was married 3 times, I think she gave away some ofher children. My mother was the first in 5 generations who did not have a child either out of wedlock or just after the wedding. There are abandoned chldren and families.

My children have Civil War ancestors of both sides of the war. My side fought for the Union. My husband's side fought for the Confederacy. There are slave owners on boht sides. My children are learning history as they see the information I collect. They see the people who went to OK to work in the oil fields and the Rail Road. They understand that their ancestors were in Fl before the state existed.

I not only do it for me, I do it for them. It has been a great learning tool for all of us.

Sue Wooten

Frankly, I began back in 1974 because I was a new member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Family history is one of the things I was commanded to do by the Lord in my patriarchal blessing. However, I find it a joy today to research my ancestors, especially when I discovered that I am a true daughter of Iowa pioneers. This is quite a big deal to me since I am in a church that reveres the Utah pioneers.

Wilma Mae (Willie) Jones Zarate Braudaway

For my family, my genealogy research has brought living people together and given people of disparate viewpoints a common interest. Our family tends to get estranged by reason of neglecting relationships, often because relatives have little in common other than being relatives.This activity renews our interest in one another. For this reason alone, it has been a priceless experience.

I have met a substantial number of cousins whom I would never had the pleasure to know otherwise. Again, immeasurably valuable experience.

And, like you, the change in perspective has a major influence on me and others in my family.We are very proud of what our ancestors did and the opportunities we inherited from them.Would they be as proud of us for taking full advantage of what we've been given? More likely, yes they would, because we are aware of their gifts.

Good luck with your project. I hope you will summarize to the Roots list.

Judith Haller

Would you believe, I started genealogy in Oct 1994 because I broke my foot in two places and the doctor said I needed to do something that didn't require much, if any, walking. Genealogy was just the right thing. Naturally, once you get "hooked," it's hard to stop. Good thing I'm retired!! Otherwise, I'd be putting in 36 hr days.

Sally Rolls Pavia

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