Why Genealogy?

This post was prompted by a very thought provoking blog from John Grenham last week titled ‘Why Do You Love Genealogy’? It’s something anyone considering a career in genealogy or even approaching it as a hobbyist should read and ponder on. It’s certainly something everyone will have their own perspective on. I felt that it might be useful to write up my own thoughts on this question and a good way to get back into regular blogging.

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Reading Room in National Archives of Ireland

So why did I decide to become a professional genealogist? At first glance it might not seem like a smart career move. Unless you work for a company in an office somewhere (such as Ancestry or Findmypast) then chances are you will be going solo. There are no set hours. Genealogists by their nature tend to be slightly obsessive and tenacious. We will sometimes work long into the night exploring the latest record sets or just trying to track down that elusive ancestor.

But that is a big part of what I enjoy about being a genealogist. There is the thrill of discovery. It’s hard to describe that feeling of achievement when you finally decode the information on a marriage certificate or that census form. Each clue can lead you in unexpected directions. There is always something new to learn. No enquiry is ever exactly the same. A seemingly routine search could start in a neighbouring parish and take you halfway around the world before ending back where you started. But on that journey you uncover so many amazing stories.

As someone who is obsessed with history, genealogy is also an eye opener. Too often we only learn history through the big events. The rise and fall of empires, the wars and famines, the ascension of kings to thrones. But genealogy gives you a different perspective. Instead of the broad sweeps you discover the smaller, more intimate stories. Sometimes these will even contradict the established narrative surrounding past events.

But perhaps what I enjoy most about genealogy is that it matters. We can watch the various celebrity genealogy shows and roll our eyes a bit (“Well of course they are going to be related to royalty aren’t they?”). But even with all the editing and multiple shots required for an episode of a tv series, we shouldn’t underestimate just how strongly we feel about our ancestors. Often when we research them, the stories we uncover will tell us something about ourselves. Whether we like it or not, our ancestors form part of our sense of identity.

I’m sure I could write a lot more and maybe someday this will form the basis of an article or a talk. But for now I think what I’ve written above will suffice. Hopefully I’ll have more thoughts soon.

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