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Last Update: 28 Oct 1999

An Essay on Genealogy

     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 person’s 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 doesn’t 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. Don’t 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. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

      "Courage came to me from the height of the mountain, and with it came the dignity of manhood, and knowledge of the Tree of Life, for now I was a branch, running with the vital blood, waiting in the darkness of the Garden for some unknown Eve to tempt me with the apple of her beauty, that we might know our nakedness, and bring forth sons and daughters to magnify the Lord our God.

      I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me, those who are to come.  I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front, to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond. 

      And their eyes were my eyes. 

      As I felt, so they had felt, and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning, and no end, and the hand of his father grasped my father's hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was, to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, had in His Image, been fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father".

(written by Richard Llewellyn, "How Green Was My Valley")

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