THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF GENEALOGY
BY LESTER J. HARTRICK
First, let me set the record straight by saying that I'm neither a philosopher nor a psychiatrist or psychologist. Further, I have not had my thinking on these subjects shaped by someone else's concept of them during any formal instruction in these disciplines. The thoughts that are presented here, unless specifically credited to others, are strictly my own untutored mental ramblings
In this page, I will attempt to show how genealogical studies provide a means of satisfying several of our psychological needs. A page which is to follow, will attempt to show that by studying the lives and times of our ancestors, we are broadened by the knowledge gained. Finally the study of our progenitors can provide us with insight into their personal lives. With this knowledge we are better able to understand ourselves, for it is they who at least in part have determined who we are.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow theorized that all human behavior stems from the need to satisfy a series of fundamental needs. These were arranged by him into a hierarchal order, starting from the most basic needs at the lower levels and ascending to the highest order of needs. He diagrammed these in a triangle or pyramid with several horizontal levels. Starting at the base of the figure, these needs are:
As these needs are discussed, keep in mind that as we are pursuing a higher need and if the needs of a lower level becomes unsatisfied, we immediately revert to the pursuit of the satisfaction of that lower need. Thus as we are looking for self confidence and our air supply is shut off, we immediately seek to have that supply restored. On a less dramatic note, if we lose acceptance, it is difficult to maintain self confidence.
Our basic needs of Safety, Food, Water and Air.
As the first two levels of needs are critical to our survival, we must assume that these needs are being met . This by the very fact that we have survived and are able to read this material. Let us therefore skip to the third level and see how our genealogical pursuits satisfy these needs.
Social Needs; Belonging Acceptance and Friendship.
Queen Anne settled a hardy group emigrants from the Palatinate of Germany in to Ireland in 1709. In that they were from the Palatinate, [a state of the old Holy Roman Empire], they were called Palatines. Thus, being situated in Ireland, they were called Irish Palatines.
Those of us who are the descendants of this group, are known as Irish Palatines to this day. In addition to the satisfaction of the social needs which are met by most people, we who lay claim to being descendants of the Palatines, have this additional source of third level satisfaction. We belong! Through the pursuit of my family's genealogy, I have found belonging, acceptance, friendship and yes, even love for the many friends that I've made through this hobby. The study of my family's history has given me a rich source of third level satisfaction.These special benefits of belonging are available to anyone who pursues this hobby. Just as the backgrounds of our ancestors are as diverse as they themselves were, we have just to explore their history to learn to which special group we already belong.
Ego needs, Achievement, Status.
The fourth level contains our ego needs. Research of our ancestor's history certainly increases not only our knowledge of our family, but that of the countries in which they lived and the history and culture of their times. I am indeed grateful to a Dublin friend who urged me to "read around" my subject to gain insight into the conditions under which our ancestors lived. Self confidence is the natural result of gaining knowledge. Sharing this knowledge, even if meager, brings recognition of achievement, which in turn produces status. This finally gains that which we all desire, the respect of others.
The fifth level need is that of self actualization. In modern parlance, it means doing your own thing. Self actualization is achieved by a farmer being a farmer; planting and harvesting his crops. It's achieved by a musician who is playing music. It's also achieved by a researcher reading around his subject and yes, also a writer who is writing. For me, I achieve something akin to a runners "high" when sharing information through writing. It is a source of great satisfaction to me.
The highest level of our needs is that of transcendence. When I first saw this term, I considered it to be some kind of a quasi religious, spiritual hocus-pokus. Through personal experience, I have come to learn that transcendence is a real and tangible mental experience. Some of the dictionary definition of transcendence are;
"Philosophy a. Scholasticism, above all possible modes of the infinite. b. Kantianism. transcending experience; not realizable in human experience."
I think that the Kantianism, [referring to Emmanuel Kant,- more of him in the following webpage], as defined above, is the closest to my perception. In plain everyday terms, it means rising above your immediate surroundings to a new level of consciousness. This may well be a consciousness that has not been personally experienced by us, but which might well be accessed through an outside stimulus.
A practical example is identifying with a character in a movie. Through the stimulus of the moving pictures that we are seeing, we may feel ourselves stiffen in preparation for our defense when the hero is in danger. It's the tears that we shed during a sad movie. It's the joy that we share with the characters when they experience joy. We have transcended our surroundings of the plush seat of the darkened movie theater and have, at least in part, mentally and emotionally entered the realm of the movie itself. These feelings often remain as we leave the theater. I have found myself whistling a tune from the movie, or swaggering as though I were Sylvester Stallone.
Any experience which lifts us from everyday reality of our immediate surroundings, is a venture into transcendence. It may be a book that seems to come alive as we read., It may also be becoming personally acquainted with our ancestors, as we study fragments of their lives as they become available to us,
In this process of transcendence, we may well encounter feelings and attitudes that we have not personally experienced. These are brought into focus by the experience of transcendence and stem from our subconscious, where they have been placed by the process that I call "Inherited Memory". This highest form of transcendence allows us to have an intimate, one-on-one contact with our progenitors, from within our own minds. Pretty sneaky how I've gotten you into yet another benefit of genealogy, isn't it.
In my opinion the definitive work on history and culture of the Irish Palatines is Dr. Patrick O'Connor's book entitled People Make Places. In the preface to this work, he states that, "I have lived metaphorically with the Palatines". Further along in the preface, referring to himself, he states that as a father, he "...has been living with the Palatines for the best part of two years ".
During my studies of the Hartrick Clan and currently the closely entwined Hornick Clan, I have come to know exactly what he meant. It is as though the veil of time had been drawn aside for a while and I was so privileged as to see and to know my ancestors as the real living people that they were. They had much the same joys and sorrows, the same triumphs and failures, that we experience today. This however, in the context of their own times and circumstances. Through this concentrated study, I had transcended my everyday surroundings and for a few precious moments, I met and lived with my ancestors. This is what I believe Maslow meant by transcendence.
The high tech age in which we live has brought to light a new facet to the concept of transcendence. Virtual reality is a computer generated world that is experienced by wearing a specially equipped helmet or goggles. These have computer screens instead of eyepieces and sense movement of your head, so that as you turn, in a like manner, the picture that you see turns. Some models even have gloves that allow you to touch and even pick up and move objects in this make believe world of virtual reality. It's has been found that once people have entered this realm of electronic transcendence, they are reluctant to leave it and return to reality.
The conclusion that we might draw from all of this is that while we are engaged in the study of our ancestors, we are quite well off indeed. With all of our lower order of needs being met, we are able to satisfy several of the higher orders of our needs. Thus, with all of our Maslowian needs met, we are indeed well off and are complete, fulfilled individuals.
In the next page of this website, we will explore the theory that not all of our experiences, attitudes, feelings and talents are those that we ourselves have personally known and developed, but that some of these have been gained by inheritance. The theory of "Inherited Memory", hinted at above, will be explored in some depth, to establish the premise that we are who we are, more through the influence of our ancestors, that we might have ever imagined. Thus the study of our ancestors is in fact to some degree, a study of ourselves and that by this study, we can better understand ourselves. After all, it is our ancestors who have made us who we are today.
The graphic presented here is a collaboration of The Irish Palatine Association, of Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland and the author.
Last Modified December 28, 2000.