It seems a common and repeated refrain for genealogists to ask "Why do we do genealogy?" And I think by now it is pretty much understood there is no one answer. But I encountered something new, an emotion I really can't easily put my finger on. And to be totally honest I am using this post in my blog to journal it, to see if I can't help my self understand it.
It seems to me that for years I have perceived that I have been doing genealogy in a virtual vacuum, a bubble if you will. I saw it as just me, my relatives, and my ancestors doing our research in parallel and alongside a whole lot of others also doing their own research in their own bubbles. Nothing entirely wrong with that, there is communication back and forth as we share research, give each other tips, etc. That is the way I perceived it.
I have run into a few indirect relatives along the way also researching the same family lines. But, no offense intended, by and large, with few exceptions, there was an air of abstraction about them to me. Unfair, I admit, they are real people. However, it just seemed that unless someone was a part of my direct ancestry they were not inside my self-made bubble with me. Then my bubble burst.
A lady recently contacted me saying that she had some documents to share on one of my g-g-grandmothers. She said she was related by a previous marriage. I had no evidence of any previous marriage! But she insisted and I thought there was no harm so accepted the papers. When the papers arrived, I was surprised, there it was in black and white, my g-g-grandmother had been previously married, and while my new found correspondent was not a descendant of my g-g-grandmother, she was descended from her first husband by a different marriage. No threat to my bubble; Still intact.
However then I went to visit my g-g-grandmother's grave, and it began to hit me, something existentially awakening. I sensed it when looking at the graves of my other ancestor's too. These were not "my" ancestors per se. These were the ancestors of dozens if not more descendants; People I don't know, but am yet related to hereditarily, genealogically, totemically, and every other familial way. My perceived bubble was absurd.
A new emotion struck me. I am not exactly sure what it is, but I liken it to "responsibility". If my unknown relatives are anything like me, and some day down the road, which they may not yet be able to envision today, want to know something about their roots, they were counting on me. If they were not counting on me, they were at least putting hope in me. The hope I would do the work; That I would do the work right, and that I would be willing to share it.
Now don't get me wrong, I still do family history and genealogy for me. And it is and will remain a "choice." But I love it. I love doing the research, I love the rewards. But now the thought of it being practiced in a bubble is just plain absurd. And I have a stronger sense of wanting to produce something worth sharing.
Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker