National Genealogy Day will be observed on Saturday. As one who has spent considerable time on genealogy I thought it appropriate to expend a few words on the subject here.
Since retiring from the newspaper business in 2000 I have been librarian of our county historical society where I assist people with genealogy and historical research. I was doing it on a personal basis long before that and took on this responsibility partly to share what I had learned, but also because I enjoy it.
Call it a hobby if you will, but it is one pursued by increasing numbers of people around the world. I like the solving of puzzles, the detective work necessary to tracking down that elusive ancestor and discovering why he did this instead of that. It can become an absorbing addiction.
Genealogy is best defined as the study of family history. There was a time when it was chiefly the pursuit of maiden women and doddering eccentrics who sought some glory for themselves in the achievements of their ancestors.
As Plutarch wisely put it many centuries ago, “It is indeed a desirable thing to be well descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors.”
People now pursue genealogy for a variety of reasons. For some, like the Mormons, it is a necessary adjunct to their religion. Others are simply curious about the lives of their ancestors or need to confirm facts in order to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mayflower Society and similar groups. More recently, there has been an emphasis on inherited diseases and genetic influence.
In truth, we are the sum of what we inherit from our ancestors, though we make our own additions to the mix. I like to recall Edmund Burke’s comment, “People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”