Written by: Joe Fiduccia
The technology of today has made it easier than ever to look back in time at our roots. With the help of various genealogy and family history websites and databases, researching our own personal history is a task at least 57% of Millennials plan to take on at some point within the next 10 years.
And that number is even higher for Baby Boomers, where 61% plan to start or continue their research into their family history.
These figures are the result of an online survey of 1,000 Baby Boomers and Millennials, conducted by AmericasFootprints.com in April 2015.
So what is it that fascinates us with our history? Because aside from maybe filling in the gaps of our past, there are those who would say “the past is the past.”
For example, does it really matter if our great, great grandfather rode the first train to DC, or if our great, great, great grandmother home schooled her children? Will our present lives change with this newfound knowledge? Will we attempt to adjust the path of our future just because of an interesting article we read that dates back 300 years ago?
This got us thinking. Why are so many people going beyond the existing family photo albums and attic memorabilia in search for the bigger picture? Is it curiosity? It is boredom? Is it to find the answers that might clear a family name? Or something else?
We attempted to answer this very question in this same online survey. Of those who said they plan to begin, or have begun, researching their family history, we followed up with one simple question: “why”.
We asked respondents to tell us why they were interested in digging up their past and discovering more about their family history. And here are just a few of the responses we received (note some chose to stay anonymous):
– “There is no reason really. I already know a lot about my past. I have records and documents sitting in our attic that date back at least 250 years. I have some of the earliest photos of my family that were ever produced. I guess if I had to pick a reason, it’s simply because I want all the facts. I want to collect as much as I can about my family history so that there is never any confusion or misunderstandings about where our roots come from.” Dominic (age – 49)
– “I have heard many stories about my great, great, grandfather. He apparently had a hand with certain inventions that revolutionized his time. So that’s what I’m most interested in. As an entrepreneur, I would love to learn more about him as a person – like what he did and what his thoughts were. And how he found the courage to make some of these decisions. I just want to pick his brain. I feel like his wisdom could help me personally in my current business.” Ashley (age – 52)
– “I want some answers. My parents were never very good at storing family heirlooms and photos, so I know very little about my past. I’ve had to rely solely on the stories that I’ve been told at the dinner table or the rumors that spread throughout my family. I have lived a difficult life, and want to see if I am the first in my family to experience certain things. In a way, I want to know that I wasn’t alone in what I endured.” Anonymous (age – 61)
– “Call it curiosity, but I am very fascinated with our family’s past. I wasn’t always into history, and quite honestly I don’t know what triggered the interest. My children are all grown now. One has a child of her own, and the other lives too far away to come visit. I’m alone a lot and find comfort in learning what my ancestors did. Maybe it’s because my days of raising a child are over. Maybe I value life a bit more now that I’m older. Whatever the reason, I would love to build a collection of our history that I can pass down to them as one final gift before I go.” Duncan (age – 64)
– “I believe ancestry plays an important role in our future decisions. For example, I believe we can all learn a lesson from our mistakes. And by learning more about the challenges my ancestors faced and the mistakes they made along the way, I become more prepared in helping to ensure their descendants (us) don’t make the same mistakes again.” Tammy (age – 57)
– “I would love nothing more than to hear the stories of our ancestors. There is so much knowledge and wisdom that gets lost through the generations. And so much information is forgotten as time continues. Like everyone of the modern world, I am sure my ancestors learned a lot in their lifetime. They had good days, and bad. They went to school, held careers, dealt with politics, government, law enforcement, social issues, and had their medical issues as well. There are just so many things they could tell us if they were still around.” Anonymous (age – 73)
So in closing, what is the official answer? Why are more and more people expressing interest in researching their family history? Well…as the responses above indicate, it can vary widely. But whatever the reasons, all of us come from somewhere. We are just another link in the long chain of people who came before us. And with each passing day, we are leaving a deeper Footprint about our life story that may be of interest to our future descendants, for one reason or another.
But instead of “why”, maybe the question we should ask ourselves is “what”. What experience, knowledge, and wisdom have WE left behind for the future members of our family to one-day uncover?”