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  • Barb French

Making genealogy interesting to everyone?


How many people will get up and wander off when the subject turns to genealogy?

I can't.


It's just not possible.


You are never going to open up everyone's mind to the idea that researching your family tree is anything more than self-indulgent navel-gazing, or that the results don't change who you are, or that it's a waste of time. But then again, probably nobody is going to induce me to become passionately interest ed in horse racing, stamp collecting, or knitting.


(OK, I used to love to knit, but my orthopedic hand specialist gave me this prescription to cure my repetitive motion injuries: knitting, violin, or computers - choose two. Knitting lost. Violin lost a few years later. Computers are my livelihood, so I don't really have much choice there).


I went into genealogy because I loved the discipline of historical research, not that I was that interested in learning my roots. That came later, as discovering what my ancestors had been through made me interested in subjects I never would have looked into before. I didn't know about the horrible treatment of Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The involvement of the German Palatine families in the Revolutionary War in central New York. (Central New York? Who knew there were battles of the Revolution there? I didn't, until I found out my fourth-great-grandfather had died in one). I pored over information about a Mennonite group in Ontario, after discovering my third-great-grandfather left his wife in New York after more than fifty years of marriage to go off and join them. I studied the formation of a Chippewa reservation in Michigan and another fourth-great-grandfather's dispute with them as the government reserved land around his and he couldn't convince the land offices to sell it to him instead (bad move, Grandpa). I read with fascination about an issue I never would have thought about otherwise: the family fights that ensued when children orphaned after the Civil War were fought over by relatives mostly interested in acquiring their military pension checks.


More, it helped me reconcile myself to a difficult part of my paternal lines. Behind two pretty awful people in the family, there were a lot of good people who were worth getting to know a little, even through the haze of distant records. No, I don't think all my ancestors were perfect. No, I don't view everything with rose-colored glasses.


But history becomes more real if you have a personal connection to it. We all have a history; we just don't all know it. I always laugh when I see "History Happened Here" signs on the roadways, because everywhere has history. It's just a matter of whether that history is remembered.


By using our ancestors as a vehicle for discovering the past, we are also recovering knowledge of their challenges and the world they lived in.


It's like the many versions of the old saying goes: you're only dead when you're forgotten. When I uncover a forgotten ancestor or relative, for myself or for a client, it's restoring something that was lost. When I do someone's tree, I feel like I am giving them back something that has been theirs by right: a deeper knowledge of themselves.


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