Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Paying Tribute to the Past

There’s just something so exhilarating about genealogy: the thrill of the hunt, the joy of discovery, and the unmatched challenge of piecing together history’s forgotten lives.

For most of us, our ancestors weren’t famous. No one wrote books about them or used their real-life adventures as fodder for Hollywood treatments. Their final testaments were graveside eulogies, if any were given, or cold stone markers, if any were laid.

If all you want from research your family tree is tombstone data, you might want to look for another hobby. Genealogy is more than lists of names and dates. In its truest and purest form, genealogy is a detective story. Those of us who practice the craft spend our time unearthing, deciphering, recording, and sharing the stories of real people who had real lives—lives worth remembering and preserving for generations to come. Without us, many of those lives would remain lost under decades and centuries of dust.

When I started my research in 1990, I had no idea that I’d amass a database of more than 60,000 names or that I’d transform a key ancestor from one line on a tax record to a six-page biography and a potential novel. Nor did I suspect that another ancestor would indirectly influence the one-and-only William Shakespeare.

That’s the beauty of genealogy. We don’t know what we’ll find when we start. We only know that there are questions begging for answers, mysteries waiting to be solved, and we won’t be satisfied until we’ve solved the puzzle. Dead ends don’t really exist, because we’ll just keep digging until we get to the other side of the wall. Maybe we’ll find an untried path or another wall, but either way we’ll press ahead.

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