If you are just starting to think about tracing your family tree, or if you are a beginning genealogist, you might be wondering if there is any real importance to what you are doing besides satisfying your curiosity and providing your family with some knowledge on their origins. Those are important things in and of themselves. However, there is much more to the importance of genealogy than these two things. Here are some more reasons why genealogy is important.
Having a clear idea for why you are tracing your ancestors can be highly motivating, especially if you come across brick walls that may frustrate you. If you don’t know exactly why you are doing genealogy, if it’s not something of a mission for you, then you might be tempted to give up when you come across these brick walls. With a purpose and mission in mind, you will power right through them, eventually. You will be motivated to keep going until you find the answers you seek.
Your reasons for doing genealogy may be different from someone else’s, as well. Everyone has at least one and sometimes more than one, unique reason they are doing all of this family history research. Find your reason, beyond just recording names, dates, and places associated with your ancestors, and you will find your unique genealogical purpose, and your motivation to continue in the face of adversity right along with it.
Some of the most common genealogical purposes include:
Validating Family Legends — Most families have a legend. It can be mild but is often quite fantastical. A common reason for many people beginning genealogy is to validate the legend or find the truth behind the tale (if there is any… there is often at least a bit of truth, but not always).
Looking for Famous Ancestors — Other people are convinced they must be descended from historically famous people, or a person, and want to prove it. Others are simply curious if there is anyone famous in their family tree, and go looking to see what they will find.
Researching How Their Ancestors Were Involved in History — Some genealogists know their ancestors were involved in historically important events, but aren’t sure what role they played. They get involved in genealogy because they want to find out the details of what their ancestors did, to understand their real role in history.
Looking for Heirs to a Family Inheritance — This is more commonly done by professional genealogists who get paid, but some private individuals do it, too, particularly if there are rumors of a rich relative with an unclaimed fortune. The professionals who do it for hire are called “heir tracers.”
Determining Who Owns Land — After a few generations, the legal ownership of land, especially large tracts of land, can sometimes get murky. Researching genealogy gives you the opportunity to trace the legal ownership of the land through time to find out who has the rightful title to it today.
Locating Birth Parents — This is a common reason for researching genealogy. Whenever someone is adopted, they have a natural curiosity to know where their origins are, and the family from which they originally came. There is a huge community of adoptees who are researching their genealogy for this very reason.
Determining Paternity — While DNA testing can be done in modern times to determine this, if there is a question about paternity in generations past, doing records research in genealogy can sometimes point to a paternal candidate, or even pinpoint the exact one.
Proving Lineage to Join a Lineage Society — If you want to join a lineage society, like Daughters of the American Revolution or the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, then doing genealogy to prove each fact for each generation from you back to your qualifying ancestor is a must. Your connection in a direct line to that ancestor is required to join those groups. Sometimes years’ worth of genealogy is involved in getting all the proof you need to become a member.
Preserving Family Traditions — Occasionally, doing genealogy means having a mission to preserve the traditions of your family for posterity. If the unique things that are meaningful to you and your family mean a lot to you, then recording them for future generations in the form of a written genealogy is a strong and noble mission that will mean so much to future generations of your family.
Preserving the Legacy of a Beloved Relative — If someone you really loved left this earth without direct heirs, you may feel like preserving their legacy falls to you. The same with a relative with heirs who are not interested in preserving family history….you may feel obligated to preserve that legacy because you love the person and no one else is going to do it. It is an honorable thing to do, and one that will definitely provide you with motivation to do genealogy.
Reconnecting With Long-Lost Family — If you have relatives who you remember fondly, but who you haven’t seen in a long time, doing genealogy might be your way of finding them and re-connecting with them. They might be researching the family history, too, and you will find each other on a message board or family tree website. Or, you might use records and social media to trace them and get back in touch.
Gathering Historical Research for a Book — If you plan to publish your genealogy, or do a work of historical fiction based on your family history, then doing genealogy provides you with the information you need to get the project done and make it shine.
Whatever your reasons for doing genealogy, they are precious, special, and unique to you. Treasure your genealogical journey, and know you are doing a wonderful thing for yourself, your current family, and your ancestors. You are doing work that honors everyone and will be treasured by yourself and others for generations.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)