Maybe it is the holiday season. Maybe it is the long, cold, winter days inside. Or maybe it is just that time in my life that finds me reflecting on what “family” is. I don’t typically use this forum to share personal musings, but I hope you’ll indulge me today.
Why Do Genealogy?
I suspect the reasons for doing genealogy are as many and varied as the genealogists themselves. Some enjoy the history. Some are called to the duty to preserve the family history and its archives. Some like the detective work. Others may be organizational experts (that’s NOT me!), who find great satisfaction in putting all of the family facts and artifacts in their proper order.
For me, the reason I have come to believe genealogy has played such a personal and profound role in my life is that it is filling a hole. The hole is that of “family,” or what I thought a family should give me in my life. I don’t mean to imply that I have or had a tragic story of “family lost.” Indeed, about a year ago I heard Loretto Dennis Szucs, genealogy expert, recount her very sad story of a childhood filled with separation, longing, and confusion. Mine is not her story. I had a very typical, suburban, family with two, loving parents and a brother, who was seven years my senior. My childhood was filled with school, church, after-school events, and an occasional family vacation.
Yet, something was missing. We just weren’t a close family.
It was through genealogy that –
- I sought connections,
- I filled a need to remember those who came before me,
- I still try to make a mark on this world that I might be remembered.
You see, my dad passed away when I was twenty – the Summer of my sophomore year in college. And as Oprah says, “that changed the trajectory” of my life. I realized very early on that life was short, that mortality was real, and that if you wanted to leave a legacy of your time on this Earth, you have but a limited time to do it. If I was looking for connections I had to do it now. If I wanted people to remember my dad – and I very much did – I had to take up the call. And If I wanted to be remembered, I had to do something worth remembering – today. Genealogy seemed to fit the bill.
The Trans-formative Moment of 2013
Which brings me to today. Often we’re doing genealogy for the benefit of the next generation. We are saving stories and pictures for the interest and understanding of our children and grandchildren.
But this year I had a different experience. This year afforded me the opportunity – maybe once in a lifetime opportunity – to have a real, substantive, dare I say life- changing impact on the someone of this generation.
You see, my mother passed away in March after a long illness. And in her box of “family papers” were the expected vital records, military certificates, and estate papers. But also included were my brother’s adoption papers. Respecting the very personal nature of the papers, I handed them to him unopened. A few months later he called. “Beth, can you look into this person listed as my birth mother?”
I had never been so excited about a project in my life. With a little luck and some good genealogy research, I found her. I found my brother’s birth mother. I was able to share with my brother the story of his birth, the family to which he is biologically connected and where they came from, the “happily ever after” story of his birth mother, the unbelievable parallels between her life and our family, and with a little more digging a picture.
I sent my brother a picture of his birth mother.
He was profoundly moved by the experience. I can only imagine the “hole” this information filled in his understanding of family. I was profoundly moved by the experience. I can’t think of a better application of what genealogy skills I may have.
Last night was New Year’s Eve. I got a very unexpected call. “Hey Beth…just thought I’d call and say “‘happy holidays.'” A family connection made.
Happy New Year!