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Not How-to but Why-do?

By Daniel Hubbard | May 31, 2010

Quite a few of my posts of late have been of the how-to type. This time I’m feeling a bit more philosophical, more questioning than answering.

Perhaps the biggest question that exists is “Why?” Three letters and a question mark, no more, and it can be asked without any particular point or direction. Narrowing it down to genealogy leads to the question, “Why do we research  family histories?” It lacks the minimalist simplicity of “Why?” but at least the scope is a bit more manageable.

So, why do we pursue what might be called “a gentle madness” if that phrase hadn’t been taken by bibliophiles? At one level it is a pastime. A way of pleasantly wiling away the hours. It is a seemingly endless series of puzzles against which to match our wits. It is a chance to search for clues, draw conclusions and exercise our minds. For those with a playfulness about them, it can be a way for us grown-ups to play detective without being found out. It is, after all, fun.

Even if genealogy does not fall within a category of hobbies and activities I think of as being “adrenaline based,” anyone who has ever used the word “avid” to describe themselves as a genealogist knows the adrenaline rush that hits when that smoking gun document is found or the final elusive puzzle piece is right there before the eyes.

Some are driven first to preserve what they know, then proceed to investigating what they “almost know” and from there step off firmly into the unknown. Some take a special joy in finding a new distant cousin around the corner or halfway around the globe. Some search for connections backwards, forwards and sideways and find amazement in how interconnected we prove to be. For some it is a religious imperative. For others it is a quest for a recent past that events have denied them.

Personally, I get a special thrill from finding connections to history, both writ large and writ small. There is a certain connectedness with time that comes from investigating and pondering the actions, motives and chance occurrences that somehow helped lead to all of us.

Also there is the drive to immortalize, in some small way, the people of our personal past, that feeling that they should not be forgotten. Perhaps too, there is the motive that in a hundred years or more, when some descendant reads what we have learned, they won’t just come to remember our ancestors but also us.

At its root, no matter why you do it, the research is the same. We all gather evidence, and then form logical conclusions about each person’s identity, and the identities of their parents and their children, if we can. Yet beyond the basics, why you research just may impact, for better or for worse, how you research. Being aware of why you research just might help you do your research. How-to is vital but why-do is important as well.

So why do you research? How does that affect the way you research? Do you recognize yourself in any of the above or are there other facets to your personal answer to “Why?”

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Topics: Genealogy | 4 Comments »

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4 Responses to “Not How-to but Why-do?”

  1. Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith Says:
    May 31st, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Dr. Dan,

    How nice to see you stopped by. I really enjoy your posts; just signed on to follow your tweets, as well. Keep up the good work!

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. Bart Brenner (GeneaPopPop) Says:
    June 2nd, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Nicely done! A most thoughtful post. It encouraged me to write my own answer to the “Why” question, which I will post on my “Stardust ‘n’ Roots” blog. Thanks

  3. Why do you research? | Family History Research Tips Says:
    June 11th, 2010 at 7:28 am

    […] I just read a marvelous article on a blog called “Personal Past”. The article is called Not How-to but Why-do? This article deals with a couple of big questions. Why do we research? How do we research based on […]

  4. Quantum Genealogy | Personal Past Meditations- a Genealogical Blog Says:
    July 19th, 2010 at 8:23 am

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