Do you want to know why family history is important? The study of one’s family history is more than just a pedigree chart. In this post, find five reasons why family history is crucial for understanding the past, present, and future.
In a recent post on this site, I wrote about the difference between family history and genealogy. It was during writing on this topic when I realized that I identify as a family historian.
When you listen to people talk about their family’s history, even when they don’t know more than just a few vague details, it is clear that family history is a key part of one’s identity and how they perceive that they connect to their world.
5 Reasons Family History is Important
Oddly enough, if you talk to different people in the same family, you’ll find that their own view of their family’s story varies slightly from person to person. This is true even in my own family.
This really got me thinking about the role that my family’s history has played in my own understanding of the world, my community, my family, and my place in them. I realized that family history is truly a crucial part of how we see ourselves.
Below, you’ll find five reasons why I believe family history is important for everyone. No matter the family and no matter the history.
You will be wiser if you study family history
One side benefit that most people don’t realize until they become engrossed in genealogy records is that you just learn things doing family history research.
I have to admit that I’ve always loved history. Reading historical fiction and non-fiction novels about historical topics is one my favorite pastimes.
Even though I’m naturally interested in just about any kind of history, I had no idea just how much history I would learn while doing genealogy.
All of the learning that we do while digging up information about our ancestors has the potential to just make us wiser than we were before.
Family historians can change the future by providing representation and diversity
Much of the history in school textbooks and history books is heavily weighted towards telling the story of the victorious, the rich, the powerful, and the majority.
Sadly, the same is often true for family histories and pedigrees. Everyone wants to find their connection with nobility or someone famous in their family tree.
When I first set out to do genealogy, one of my goals was to disprove one of our most popular family stories. We are descended from someone very famous: my 11th great-grandfather.
It’s important to note that I have about 8,192 11th great-grandparents. My famous 11th great-grandfather only accounts for .01% of my existence.
His story has been important to my maternal grandmother’s family for generations, and so I know we can’t ignore it. Even so, I’m sure that many of the 8,191 11th great-grandparents were just as interesting.
Many of them likely had an equal – or greater – affect on the family’s trajectory.
Family historians have the unique opportunity to tell their family’s complete story.
For example, we can help eliminate sexism in genealogy by focusing on our family’s female ancestral lines, or increase diversity in family histories by including research about our ancestors who belonged to a minority group or lived in poverty instead of affluence.
Discovering ancestors can help us form a new identity
Our family history plays an important part in how we view ourselves. Family stories, traditions, culture, and religion are key elements of how people form their identity and view their relationship with the wider community.
Throughout the process of genealogy research, we might discover that important aspects of our family’s story was unknown, or even intentionally omitted. We may also be inspired or motivated by the struggles of our ancestors.
This is my favorite reason that family history is important. Over the past several years, my view about who I am has changed, and I believe that this is due to learning the true, complete story about my family history.
I realized that 13 of my 16 great-great grandparents were immigrants or the children of immigrants. All but one of those immigrant great-great grandparents was about as poor as a person can be, coming to the US with few personal belongings and no money to speak of.
Learning about the stories of each immigrant ancestor, including what they left behind, how they struggled, and what they achieved, helped me realize the staggering sacrifices that were made by them so that their descendants, including me, could have the life that I have.
Learning about family history can be healing
Many people find that learning about their family history can be healing. Whether we learn about an individual’s struggle or historical context, this understanding can filter down to our own lives.
I didn’t know one of my grandfathers well, but the little I know about him and the few personal interactions that I had with him have left me with a negative impression of him. Even so, I know that he is an important part of who I am and how I grew up.
There’s no avoiding it.
Furthermore, he was the product of his upbringing and the pain and suffering of his ancestors – both recent and distant. Learning about where he came from has given me a different, more compassionate lens with which to view his life.
More importantly, I can understand how his life and history affected me. By understanding him, I can make sure that harmful patterns aren’t passed down in my family.
I can also be more forgiving. That’s important, too.
It provides you with a mission and importance
Everyone plays an important role in the world, whether they know it or not. By studying family history, we become even more vital to the present and the future.
We are the documentarians of our family’s story. Family historians collect and interpret historical evidence, document it and preserve it for future generations.
Our mark will be left for our descendants. They will take up where we left off and build upon the family story that we created for them.
This sounds like an important mission to me!
I hope that this post has provided you with many ideas about how family history is important for our understanding of the past, present, and future, as well as how it can enrich our lives.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or if you would like to share your own ideas about how family history is important, I would love for you to join us in the discussion below.
Thanks for stopping by!