When I first became interested in my family history, I attended a Saturday morning workshop for beginners at a local library. The elderly lady who welcomed us that morning commented that she was "glad to see some young people in the audience." I looked around the room and realized that even though I was 35 years old, I was probably the youngest person in the room. I had not thought of myself as a young person in a long time. As I visited libraries and archives over the next few years doing my research it became obvious to me that Genealogy is an "old persons sport". This set me to thinking.
What is the fascination with knowing their roots that attracts some many older people to this hobby. Ironically, family history is easier if you start out young since there are more people alive who can help you. At first, I thought it was just people finally getting around to something they had been curious about for years but had been too occupied with other priorities to get around to it sooner. That is probably part of it; but I definitely think it is something more.
This is my theory. As we approach the last years of our lives, I think we begin to deal with our own mortality. Not surprisingly, we begin to judge our own lives and sometimes there is disappointment regardless of how much our families, friends and associates value us. Just like a young child we are inevitably drawn to the same question that famous philosophers have attempted to answer since time immortal What is the Meaning of Life? Or in other words, why was I born?
I think Genealogy answers this question and that is what older people are seeking when they become interested in their family history. It doesnt take long to realize once you start, that you merely represent the latest generation of family lines that extend back thousands of years through countless fathers, mothers and children. It is equally obvious that in all likelihood that you will be followed by countless generations to come. Some of your ancestors turn out to be truly noble and others are scoundrels. Not that it matters much other than that at some point that had children that continued down through time to eventually reach you. No matter how great or small they were all born, they all lived, reproduced and eventually died. Their lifetime achievements and failures are equally without lasting relevance. What does matter is that they served as the connection from the generation before them to the generation after them and ultimately to us.
So that is it .. very simple. Dont beat yourself up or beat too much on your own chest. You and I will eventually die. All our possessions and keepsakes will fade from the earth. All our unrecorded thoughts and words will be lost. Eventually there will be no one left who ever knew us. But we will not truly be dead as long as the memory of us remains in the mind of at least one living person.
The Secret of Life is to connect one generation to the next. No more and no less. If you do that successfully either by actual procreation or by serving as the proxy parent to a child; you have done all that you were intended to do. You continued life in the world. Dont be too hard on yourself.