I love genealogy! I will admit to getting obsessed by it as well. It really is my obsession. I can literally spend several hours in a row researching my family (if only my kids would let me). Heck, not just my family, any one’s family.
It is a lot of fun looking into a family’s history. When you tie it into the historical context of what was going on at that time, it can be quite remarkable. For example, today I discovered a distant female cousin who was a librarian for 40 years, most of it at Princeton University. She got a Master’s degree in 1928. Something rare for a woman to do at that time in our history.
Why am I obsessed? I’m not sure. I know what drew me to genealogy, though. In 1997, soon after my suicide attempt and bipolar diagnosis, I started pelting my parents with questions about our family history. My particular interest was in the mental health history of my family. I wanted to know how much genetics ruled my mental health. I knew my paternal grandfather killed himself. He did that when I was 15. What I learned though was that his father killed himself. I had heard about a “crazy” great-grandaunt, and that my great-grandmother was somehow “off.” I learned that my great-grandaunt was actually institutionalized for most of her life and until she died, but there was no official diagnosis.
As I kept looking into my family’s history, I got more intrigued. Who was this person’s father or mother? Where did they come from? Why did the move from Virginia to Tennessee? Why did they live in Arkansas then go to Kansas only to move to Oklahoma a couple of years later? What brought my ancestors from England to Massachusetts in the 1630s?
Over these past 13 years, I’ve done my research in waves. I know I get obsessed. So, if I was busy with work, I couldn’t do much research; otherwise, I couldn’t focus on work or what needed to be done at home. These past several years have given me a lot of insight into my family’s history and a lot of joy. I have discovered that I have a lot of Dutch ancestry…something I didn’t know before. I’ve stumbled on information tying me to royalty in England (well, my mom found that with a little help from me).
Something I found interesting is that on my father’s side of the family, within the direct line, we all have itchy feet and the desire to move. It was rare that an ancestor stayed in one state beyond 2 generations. Whereas a good part of my mother’s family has lived in Missouri since the early 1800s in the same county. Heck, in one county, I am probably related to a good 60-70% of the population, because my family has been there so long.
I don’t understand people who don’t find their family history interesting. My sister is one of those, and, I’ll be honest, the lack of interest confounds me. To make sure her kids know their history, I’ve done some research for her mother-in-law, and thus my niece and nephew. Through this research, I discovered they are all related to Daniel Boone. Pretty cool and something I know they will appreciate growing up.
One thing I would love to do is someone’s genealogy for them and get paid for it. I mean, doing something you love and getting paid for it? What could be better than that? I doubt that will ever happen, and I’m okay with that. Now…I better get back to my obsession. I have some family research to work on.
This post originally appeared on my blog, Adventures of a Jayhawk Mommy. It was written in March 2010, a year before I had kids and had more time to research.