It is odd, that while we feel such a desire to be connected to our past, we don’t take the time to learn our family history. True, in every family, there is the story of the daughter of the duke that ran away with the stable hand (my apologies to those of you who actually descend from runaway nobility). Most of those types of stories tend to be blips which stand out in our mind like the characters in a romance novel. These rarely mentioned characters pop up from time to time in family conversation but otherwise fade away to the back of our minds, without the hold that real people with real stories have over our hearts.
For most people, there is not time to stop and think; there are the thousands of things which pull at us. But there is something in the culture of being so busy that can make us very alone. To some, getting to know one’s history is a cure.
Many of those who teach the importance of knowing one’s ancestors, to extend beyond the basics of birth and death dates, feel very passionate about it. I myself am one of the impassioned few. Many reasons are given on the benefit of getting to know one’s family, but most of the motivation seems to be focused on research, what to do to push back the family tree a few more generations. There are benefits, however, to go back and look, not as a way to extend the pedigree but for more personal reasons. True, it can be hard enough work trying to keep connected with teenage children, much less chasing after dead uncles. Why then should we take the time to look?
Because family teaches us the basic, fundamental beauty of humanity. There are three things getting to know one’s family teaches us about ourselves. First, it helps us deal with our own challenges; we can pull ourselves so thin at times we forget what it is that holds us together. Tracing the life of an ancestor can teach us a lot about the strength of being human. Second, it teaches us sympathy. We all have a tendency to slowly get impatient, to get busier and to lose a bit of sympathy. When our heart goes out to those who came before us, our heart turns towards those we come in contact with each day.
Third it gives us joy. Laughter has been proven of value by common sense and scientists alike. There is humor inherent in life, there are funny names, hilarious occupations, and stories that make us laugh out loud. These can help to uplift us and give us a perspective on the joy we can find in our own life.