Why study genealogy?

Last Updated on October 2, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

Mom made one of those rare but very valuable genealogical finds recently: A cache of information about a family line that’s more complete than what we had. It seems like the longer you do this, the less often it happens, but the more you appreciate it.

It got me thinking about why these kinds of finds are exciting. Indeed, to a non-genealogist, it probably seems weird.First, there is a religious element to it. I’m not one who believes there’s anything I can do for my dead relatives–they’re either in a better place now or they’re not. But the Bible does say to honor your father and your mother, and that’s the only commandment that comes with a promise: That it may go well with you, and you may live long on the earth.

Recovering and preserving your family history is one way you can honor your parents. So that’s a motivation.

About 10 years ago, when I was dissatisfied with where my life had gone, I was reading a book that encouraged you to write down what you remember about your parents and grandparents. That book argued that if you understood them, you would understand yourself better. I’ve seen myself make the same mistakes Dad made in his professional career, or at least start walking down the same roads he did. Recognizing the potential to make those mistakes hasn’t completely prevented them, but I do move around less than Dad did–and Dad worked in an era when people did tend to spend entire careers in one place, as opposed to my era, when virtually all workers are regarded as mercenaries and people start to wonder what’s wrong with you if you stay more than five years in one place.

The more I study genealogy, the more merit I think there is in that. When I read about my ancestors, I see I have some of the same traits as people who lived a century or more ago, who I never met. I can’t sit down and talk with my great great grandfather, Andrew Davis McQueen, about his philosophy about debt and money, but to my great great grandson, our stories would look very similar. I don’t hide money as creatively as he did, but banks are more closely regulated now–they have to be more honest now than they were then.

I find it ironic that the same career choices the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory said I should consider are the careers that tend to run in my family lines. But maybe it’s not ironic. Those traits came from somewhere.

You can tell from looking at me that I’m a Farquhar, both from the way I look and the way I act. But there’s plenty of Kimrey and McQueen in me too. And now that I’m fresh from reading about the Tope line, that explains where some of my other tendencies might have come from.

But there’s one other thing that motivates me to study genealogy.

There generally are only two things that kill Farquhar males, and those two things are heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks are a more recent phenomenon, but get into the early 20th century, and virtually every Farquhar male whose cause of death is recorded says the same thing: apoplexy. In today’s language, stroke.

Because I study genealogy, I know how long most of them lived and how they died. Because of that, I live with the belief that I have a choice: I can be watching myself right now and take precautions knowing that I’m prone to those two things and I can share that information with my doctor, or my life can be more than half over now.

I can choose life. And if the other Farquhars are like Dad, they’d be glad I did.

I don’t know what interest, if any, future generations will have in my family history. I have no idea whatsoever what information they’ll be able to glean from it that we can’t now. But I do think it’s fairly certain there will be someone who will want it.

I’ve lost some of my zest for pursuing information. I’m sure that will return because I’ve seen it come and go before. But so far I’ve proven to be pretty good at preserving that information. And that’s probably about as important.

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