Genealogy and family values: Are we creating our story … and legacy?


Creating our family story
t first, genealogy might seem “off topic” for a blog on values. But it depends on how you look at it.

Genealogy is not merely the collection of facts and figures on one’s family. It’s an act of recreating family—and in the process, of providing a sense of identity, belonging, and meaning.

Genealogy is writing the story of “one’s own becoming,” says philosopher Martin Saar. It’s the secular version of the religious and metaphysical questions, “Who am I? Where did I come from? Where do I fit in?”

Ron Bishop, a professor of culture and communication, conducted a study of family historians to discover why they spent countless and often fruitless hours searching through dusty files, squinting at illegible Census forms, and sifting through bad online information.

As a nation of (mostly) immigrants, a common motivation among family historians is to trace one’s line back to the first immigrant—the first one who set foot on these shores. It’s the point of origin in America.

Genealogy provides a sense of one’s place in the world, according to Bishop. “We all want to know from whence we came,” wrote one of his study participants. “Finding the point where the seeds were planted gives one a feeling of belonging to something. Coming from somewhere.”

Genealogy is done for posterity—an investment for the benefit of future generations.

And for some, compiling a family history “makes mortality easy to take,” as one of Bishop’s study participants said. It’s a way to be remembered by one’s descendants.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? 


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