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Learning from Family History

Posted in History

I started getting interested in family history as a young boy. I have a large extended family and was always hearing about some relative’s exploits. I would have to ask, “Who is this? And how are we related?” and have someone try to break down the relationship for me.On the long car rides home, I would transcribe as much of each story as I could remember so that I could keep it all straight. I was always trying to understand why my relatives acted the way they did and if I would be such a carefree risk-taker when I grew up. I was desperate to know if was going to inherit my Aunt Lenore’s “travel itch” or become whatever an alcoholic was like Uncle Louis, or hefty in size like my cousin Big George. I got older and it fell by the wayside, first because it wasn’t nearly as cool to brag about your crazy family as a teenager and then because I went to university. I was too far away from my family, so I didn’t see them as much. My parents kept me fairly up to date, but many of the real legends had passed away by then, and some previously lauded behaviors started becoming “unseemly.” I studied more serious things, but nothing absorbed my mind nearly as much as those stories did when I was a child. Without that personal touch, it was all just facts. Disappointed, I got my degree in history and moved on. Then I got engaged, and I thought, “What better way to learn about my new family than creating a family tree?” Together with my fiancée, Emily, we dug into mountains of research and put together a combined family tree that went back several generations. We unveiled it at the wedding and it was quite a crowd pleaser. It definitely brought people together on a day that was designed to do just that.

By learning details about our families’ pasts, my wife and I have discovered several health problems that could be hereditary, which gives us a better idea of what might be coming down the line. I don’t think my wife is destined to get breast cancer just because her grandmother and great aunt did, but she can bring it up to her practitioner so that she maybe can start screening her earlier. Appendicitis to run in my family, which is something for me to keep an eye on. It’s just helpful information to have.

It also makes history more personal. I had a cousin who was a fighter pilot in World War II. My wife is related to an American who lost all his money in their stock market crash of 1929. We both had family who fought in World War I. Now those things have a more personal significance. I might not be interested in every battle of the first world war, but I am curious to do more research about the locations where our families served and what events took place there.

A shared family history also connects us to much more people than we realized. We have relatives scattered all over the globe. We’ve contacted a few of them and are attempting to contact more. A huge family reunion seems likely in the future. We hope to either use either a central location that is close to as many of us as possible or maybe we’ll choose a location that is appealing to the majority, like a nice beach or exotic city. The possibilities are endless.