I recently visited with my biological grandfather who is 91-years old. I have only visited with him in person a few times, but at his age I knew I needed to go spend some time with him. Our relationship is one of mutual acceptance, but he understands that my adopted parents and family are my family. I took this opportunity to ask him about his life and his family. He did not really want to talk about his family. He said, “I know you and your Aunt Judy are on this kick. I don’t get it. What do you get out of it? Why does knowing any of this matter? I said to him, “because everyone who came before you is a part of who you are, whether you accept that or not. You could go back two generations and find an uncle or a grandparent who looks like you and who had the same interests as you. I happen to find that fascinating.” His response was a huff. He is the last of his line and we are trying to get him to take a DNA test so that we can find answers to a line we are completely unable to trace. I think in the end he will do it if 1) we pay for it, and 2) just to get us to shut up.
But why does all of this matter? Why do we care about these ancestors so long ago? I don’t really put too much weight in my research beyond 5 to 6 six generations just because there is so much room for error, but I do it any way. Even if I don’t have the exact right family, I can surmise that my family of the same name could have come from a same or close by area. Getting it hit dead on isn’t as important to me when you get back to the 9th or 10th generation. That being said, all of those people are a part of who we are now. What I have learned being an adopted child and researching this biological background is that there is far more to the nature argument than I ever gave it credit for. I am the mirror image of my mother, except that physically she was taller than I. Just this week, I reconnected with a family member from this grandfather’s family, a cousin through his father, and she sent me a photo of herself. I was amazed at how much my Aunt Judy looks like her. We know very little about this side of the family and we have absolutely no photographs of this line. This is what thrills me and keeps me going.
I came across the following story which I wanted to share. It is so important that we, the family historians, understand our purpose and to pass this forward. It comes from a blog called Everyday Strong. You can find the story here:
The story provides background on a study done by Emory University wherein they asked children about their knowledge of their family history. “The questions proved to be a good predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness. The questions also showed that children who were informed of their family history were more resilient and handled stress better than those who were not informed. Lastly, children who were able to answer more questions showed greater family unity, less anxiety and less behavioral problems.”
It shows that, when people feel apart of a greater group, there is more feelings of security. It also helps to teach compassion and empathy when children learn of struggles their ancestors overcame. We all know from our own research how amazing some of their struggles were and how they knowing how they overcame them is a gift. For those of us who spent years of our childhood without family, we know what is like to be without this history. It created in me feelings of low self-worth, anxiety, and depression. That is now all gone thanks to our abilities to do this research through the internet and elsewhere.
Consider sitting down and sharing your stories with your family soon. You’ll be glad you did, and…eventually…so will they!
God bless. Have a great weekend.