This question has been ringing in my ears since my eldest daughter, with unconcealed frustration in her voice, said to me, "I don't get the value in any of this mom. Who cares if we are descended from somebody 400 years ago?" Basically she was saying that my interest in genealogy was a foolish waste of time.
So I thought about this. Why do I care? What is the value of tracking down long dead ancestors?
Well, here is what I came up with:
1.Family is about the most important thing in this world to me. Just because a family member is mostly lost in the dim mists of time doesn't make them any less my family. They are still blood of my blood.
2.Genealogy makes history personal. The Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the establishment of colonies on the Eastern Seaboard, all of this is now viscerally personal to me because it involves MY grandparents, MY aunts and uncles, MY cousins. They died at Valley Forge. They fought in King Philip's War. They had sawmills in upstate New York. They had a tavern in Concord. What a way to learn history!
3. We do not slippy-slide into this world a sterile lump of clay. We come with DNA that determines our eye color, hair color, height, personalities to a large degree and of course, proclivity to diseases. That DNA connects us physically to all the generations that have gone before us. Truly, we are flesh of their flesh.
4. Once we emerge into this world we are shaped by the values, attitudes, opinions and traditions of our parents, who were likewise shaped by the values, attitudes, opinions and traditions of their parents, and back down the generations it goes. We are the sum total of a hundred generations imprinting their ideals, beliefs, joys, and dreams on each subsequent generation.
It boils down to this: We stand on the shoulders of the dead. We are who we are because THEY were who THEY were. We can no more think we are isolated, sterile units whirling in a vacuum than a bit of sourdough bread could believe it is disconnected with the starter dough.
Our ancestry EXPLAINS us. I understand who I am and WHY I am with startling clarity because I have uncovered my ancestors. If anyone does not understand that, it is THEIR loss.
So don't let anyone tell you that genealogy is frivolous or a waste of time. You are honoring your family the best way possible. They are NOT forgotten, they are NOT lost to time, their words and deeds will NOT turn to dust, and all because you have taken the effort to remember them. I'd say that was a very worthwhile use of your time on this earth.
Well done. Let us fervently hope that someone 100 years from now will be interested enough to take the time to honor us the same way.