Hints and Tips

5 Reasons to Research Your Family History

This holiday season allows many of us to have a break and take some time to do things we don’t usually do. Or in the case of family historians, it gives us an opportunity to spend even more time indulging our passion for research. For anyone who is a beginner to family history, or unsure where to start, the vacation can offer some free time to find out more.

Many experienced genealogists agree that investigating and understanding our family history is important. It is notable that this belief is increasingly coming to be shared with those outside the family history community. There are many reasons why we value family history research. Below we look at our top five.

Top Five Reasons for Researching Family History

1. Research your Family History to Strengthen Your Sense of identity

Increasingly, social and media commentators are focusing on the significance to our mental health in a strong sense of identity. One example linking this to family history research comes from 2013, when the New York Times published an essay by Bruce Feiler called ‘The Stories that Bind Us’. In the essay, Feiler connected family history knowledge - or, specifically, “a strong family narrative” (so that sense of story) - with the high self-esteem of family members. Feiler went as far as to say that, “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be . . .” to develop this strong family narrative - that is through family history research. 

In the essay, Feiler writes that he “first heard this idea from Marshall Duke, a colorful psychologist at Emory University [that’s a private university in Atlanta, Georgia]. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Duke was asked to help explore myth and ritual in American families. ‘There was a lot of research at the time into the dissipation of the family . . . But we were more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.” Around that time, Dr. Duke’s wife, Sara, a psychologist who works with children with learning disabilities, noticed something about her students. ‘The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,’ she said.” As Joan Didion wrote, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

2. Make Genealogy Friends

The social and community aspect of family history is an essential part of our mission at the Society of Genealogists. We, and other organisations, enjoy connecting with members and the community at large through our social media platforms, our website, our events (online and in-person), and in welcoming visitors to our library. We also like attending genealogy and general history events in the UK and overseas, such as RootsTech. Many a genealogy brick wall has been solved by harnessing the power of community. A problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes!

3. Solve Family History Mysteries

It’s not a surprise to us that many of our members are keen fans of puzzles and detective fiction/television. Solving mysteries is a key part of genealogy and something that keeps drawing us back to our research. There’s always something more to investigate! There's nothing more satisfying than solving a genealogy mystery. Some of us have even been known to "whoop" with joy out loud upon tracking down an elusive ancestor.

4. Learning more about Social and Local History

Whether you’re mooching in a graveyard, visiting a museum, reading histories or memoirs, or exploring the locale where your ancestors lived or worked, you will be continuously absorbing stories from the past. In doing so, not only will you learn about the society and local environment in which your family functioned but wider historical events. Genealogy makes many people feel more personally connected to the past and learning about it can sometimes challenge long held biases or beliefs we didn't even realise we held.

5. Can Family History improve your Health?

Health professionals often recommend recording your biological family medical history, so that you have a note of illnesses and medical conditions affecting your ancestors and close relatives. This can sometimes help spot patterns of illness or vulnerabilities to certain conditions. Furthermore, tracing your family history often involves learning new skills and trying out new technologies. Whilst not looking at genealogy specifically some studies have suggested that similar activities (such as puzzle solving or strategy games) can help with both mental health and improve memory recall (see Alzheimer's Research UK)

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