I recently had a conversation with a friend regarding Who Do You Think You Are? and how so many guests wind up saying things like they inherited their bravery from their great-great grandmother. Is that really genetics or is that more of a behavior learned from the environment in which you are raised? In other words, is your personality and/or temperament a matter of nature of nurture?
Then a few days later my writer brother-in-law asked me, "So what is the goal of all this family history research? Like, when does it end?"
These questions have been looming large in my mind lately as from time to time I like to re-examine my personal philosophies on life, art, love, friendship, education, family history research, what have you... I'm graduating. I've been through some recent dramatic endings. My job is presently looking for new faculty. Its time to contemplate meaning.
So, today I attended the Long Island Library Conference where I had the privilege of listening to Newberry Award winning author, Rebecca Stead, speak about her writings and her process. When speaking about one of her works she said she was really inspired to develop in her writing a sense of place.
Which added to my ponderings...
What is the inspiration behind my writing this blog? ...writing anything? I'm inspired to develop a sense of - - - what? What do I want to inspire in my readers? I gather that they are family history researchers like myself. Am I teaching them how to research? Am I entertaining them with tales?
I want to develop a sense of nurture... or nurturing? ...or even a lack there of.
Genealogy research instilled in me a deep understanding of the fact that I am the culmination of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of a lot of people. A lot of people! Not just my parents or grandparents but generations and generations of people scattered around the globe conspired to get me here, where I am, to who I am. Well, in my case, "not around the globe" so much as across Europe...but you get what I mean. In that way my family history research has given me a sense of self and my place in history.
I also keenly realize though, that I am also the result of their secrets, their struggles, their shame, their pain. Like myself they were not perfect people. Which may explain why I am always a little put off by family researchers who boast about their lineage from kings and conquerors. "Eh, so what?" I'm descended from Charlemagne too. I still get pulled over for having a tail light out. Imperfection, if you ask me, makes for a much better story than some great coat of arms.
Now that I have sort of reached that point in my family history research where records are running dry and I have more brick walls than leads, I really enjoy helping others discover the stories connected to their genetic lines...as dark and devious as they maybe.
So whether you're descended from a family like my mother's in which every generation there is a story of some sibling being excommunicated from the family, or one like my father's where every census shows the fostering (or harboring as it were) of some wayward cousin, down trodden in-law, or lost soul, your family history AND your gene pool contributes to your sense of self.
Find the stories. And leave a good one.
You know what else makes for a great story? Love affairs. Woo hoo. And really, what is genealogy if not a study of who was getting it on with who?