Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the elimination of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

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2 responses to “Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

  1. At the end of the day, I think part of what appeals to me about it, is the hunt. We are detectives. As you stated, the intellectual challenge draws us in. We are the kind of people that NEED TO KNOW, not just about our ancestors, but many things. We are curious, and not satisfied until we know at least the basics of any topic we may be interested in, how things work, etc. And yes, I believe I have learned more about history through my research than I ever did in a classroom, and I was a history major!

    • That’s spot on. I’ve a degree in history but I feel I’ve learned so much more about ordinary families within the higher-level historical context through my family history research. And my ‘need to know’ extends far wider than my immediate family history. I’ve my ONS. Also my local history aspect, which often features in my blog.

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