Why study family history?

I’ve been following the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” for the past few episodes. The most recent episode features Kevin Bacon and his Quaker ancestors. Kevin Bacon is a Quaker?! Who knew! [Dare I say that gives a whole new meaning to “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon“. Just who doesn’t have some kind of relation to this guy?]

Anyway, aside from Kevin Bacon’s seeming ubiquity, he said something interesting on the show that started me thinking, something along the lines of: “I’ve always liked history. I never thought of history as my own family history.”

Think about that. What a powerful statement about the importance of knowing your own family history. We, all of us, don’t just exist in the present day, we also exist as a part of all of human history because of our families. Our own family heritage is history, too.

Studying your family history gives you the opportunity to contribute to the historical record. Our ancestors often embarked on wild and crazy adventures, like jumping onto leaky brigantines and sailing across the storm-tossed waves of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Wouldn’t you like to learn what wild and crazy things your ancestors did?

And it doesn’t matter how “ordinary” your ancestors were. They are a part of a multi-chapter story of history that’s made up of much more than just well-known military conflicts like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War, WWI and so on. History is more than just “The” eras recognized by historians like “The Enlightenment” or “The Industrial Revolution” or “The Atomic Age” or “The Information Age”. You and your ancestors were actually there, through all of that, living those “ordinary”, extraordinary lives.

So if you’ve been kicking around the idea of getting started on your own family history research, there’s no better time than right now. There are so many resources available to you to help you get started: digitized census and other legal records, libraries, archives, museums, genealogical societies, and even companies offering DNA services. [I’ll have more about DNA in future posts.]

As a professional genealogist, of course, I strongly recommend that you start by consulting someone like me. If you don’t have time to do the research yourself, we genealogists are only too happy to help. If you want to get started but aren’t sure where to start, we can help you by directing you to some great resources and save you a lot of time; time you’d rather be spending researching, not looking for resources! Who knows, maybe you are related to Kevin Bacon. You won’t know until you start your research.


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