There are hobbies, then there’s genealogy

There are hobbies, then there's genealogyI’ll grant you, genealogy is a hobby to many, and I am glad we have the hobbyists in our numbers. The more the merrier. But when I think of genealogy, as applied to myself, the word “hobby” grates on my sensibilities. For me, it is the wrong word. The wrong idea altogether. Genealogy means so much more to me than that. How do I give it proper tribute? If I can’t stomach saying, “Genealogy is my hobby,” what can I say? Genealogy is my … what?

What’s wrong with a hobby?

Nothing at all! A hobby is fun, a fulfilling pastime, a pleasurable occupation for our leisure. All well and good.

Is genealogy fun? You bet, and then some. Is it a fulfilling pastime? Sure is. It makes me lose all sense of time. Does it occupy my leisure? Yes, only my leisure, for there is a mortgage to pay.

Check. Check. Check. All the makings of a hobby. But I cannot use the word. Why not?

Dare I say it?

There is something sacred to me about genealogy.

There, I said it. Oh, don’t get scared. I’m not going to preach. I’m just digging into my psyche, and that’s what emerged.

When I find an ancestor, my soul feels enriched. It enlarges my sense of self. I feel stronger and safer. More deeply rooted. And as the roots expand, I feel elevated, even if the ancestor was the lowliest creature — or a low-life creature. They are in me.

Genealogy places me in the great circle of human life. It demonstrates to me the vast network of people who had to be born, grow up, meet a partner, have a child, and raise that child to do all of the above before I could be. Generation after generation. Each of us a piece of all the souls who came before us.

For each of us, a role to play in the human drama.

Genealogy reminds me how brief the earth-side drama will be. To how many names will the genealogy hobbyist attach a birth and death date before it begins to sink in? This is the story of temporal bodies with an endless ripple effect.

They reside here for an extended moment and then go off to who knows where — and we all have our ideas about where. But they leave behind an echo that never dissipates — whether the echo is in their own descendants, in tangible creations, in their service to others, or in the moment of love a mother felt for a child who couldn’t stay.

Cultures have been recording their echoes — their family stories–  as far back as we can document. In cave paintings. In pyramids. In scriptures. In Native American beadwork. In genealogy.

The family story enriches every human. But only a fraction of us find ourselves compelled to be the storytellers for our family and our generation. And whenever the family gathers, they circle around us to know what new discoveries we’ve made. It matters to them.

Genealogy fills a hole in the human soul, you see.

Truly, I don’t know what word is apt. Hobby is fine for any who can say the word without flinching. But what about the rest of us?

Avocation is better, and I’ve tended to use it, but it has a clinical feel to it. Mission feels more apt, though the word carries baggage for the non-religious. And many of the religious would consider it sacrilege that we might elevate a hobby to spiritual mission. Passion is a good word, though perhaps too emotional for what often becomes a very technical and even occasionally tedious craft.

So, genealogy is my …

… joyful, fulfilling, soul-expanding, mind-bending, worthwhile endeavor? True.

… my duty, honor, and privilege. Also true.

No, no. I’ve got it.

Genealogy is my echo.

What is it you ?

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6 thoughts on “There are hobbies, then there’s genealogy”

  1. Thank you for your inspiring thoughts on this post. I call myself an ancestress and have moments of awe every day because of it! Daniel Webster once said, “There’s a moral and philosophical respect for our ancestors which elevates the character and improves the heart.”

  2. Donna, I recently discovered your blog, and am enjoying it so! Your conclusion – “Genealogy is my echo.” – is so perfect. I think, for me, genealogy is my bridge. It’s a way to connect with people who are responsible for me being here, but it is also a way to help others do the same. I am one of the intrepid folks who buy old photos at flea markets and antique shops, and do some research to see if we can return those photos to living descendants. Helping them build that bridge to their past not only sharpens my skills, but also sharpens my vision – to see into my own past. Thanks for a lovely, thought-provoking post!

    1. What a wonderful thing to do for people, Mary Beth. And “bridge” is a great metaphor. Thanks so much — and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog posts!

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