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Rootedness

By Daniel Hubbard | March 10, 2013

Why is genealogy becoming more popular? There are some trivial, if important reasons—the Internet makes it easier to get started, software makes keeping track of progress easier, those sorts of things.

Sometimes when talking to people, I realize another reason is often sitting just below the surface. We are generally becoming less rooted.

We no longer have roots in place. Earlier people tended to move in one of two ways.  They might move often but within a restricted area. The exact place changed but the climate and culture stayed the same. The faces of the people around them may have been different but wherever they were, it still felt like home. They might have moved be their roots were still in place. People also might migrate, a once in a lifetime move over a great distance that they had no expectation of retracing or repeating. Once the journey was long enough they almost might as well have been traveling to the moon, everything was going to be different. In the first case roots were preserved in the other, roots might have been torn up but new roots could be safely put down.

Today we move from place to place almost without regard to where we go or how long we might stay. We easily lose our roots and stay so briefly in the next place that we do not lay down new roots.

We no longer have roots in time either. The world that long-ago ancestors were born into still existed when they died. Today the world that people are born into will be gone before they learn to drive. I remember when I realized that the grandparents we visited every Sunday had been born a few years before the Wright Brothers flew and before there were radio broadcasts to carry such news. When I knew them it had been years since they had turned on their television and watched men land on the moon. There are many wonderful things about that kind of change and few would want to go back. Yet we still need our roots. Something in the psyche demands it.

So, without roots in time and in a society that often lacks roots in place, we hunt for our roots and find them in the way that remains open to us, our own personal pasts. The psyche demands rootedness.

So the next time someone thinks you’re crazy for digging in old records, chasing after a great-great-grandmother in a distant place you’ve never seen, just smile and know that you may very well be the most sane person around.

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