Researching family history is something I’ve enjoyed doing for years now. It’s more than just a hobby. I believe it’s something that has added significant value to my family for a number of reasons.
Knowing your family history changes the way you see history and the world. It is the story of how you are sitting there reading this. It changes how you view people. It widens your perspective to beyond just the present day. It connects you to a picture that is bigger than yourself – because it’s not all about the ‘here’ and ‘now’, and you making your stamp on history. It’s about the continuous story, the unfolding narrative of God’s redemptive plan for mankind, and to what extent we partner with His plan.
I believe a person cannot fully know who they are unless they know their ancestral story. It forms part of our identity. It’s more than simply knowing why your ancestors moved from place to place – be it surviving the potato famine or fleeing religious persecution – it all forms part of who you are today.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed, as I’ve gotten to know my ancestors’ journey, is connecting my family’s story to that of local and world history. History books don’t always tell us of the affects that the decisions of Kings had on their subjects, or perhaps how leaders did not learn from their mistakes and were doomed to repeat them.
I have read of the direct consequences in my family line of those decisions by others, many times over, and how my ancestors had to make the best of surviving trials and hardships. What values were forged in these times? How did they respond to their circumstances, and who did they believe God to be to them? What ‘inheritance’ did they leave for their children, which was in turn transferred to their children’s children, and so on? And what am I responsible for passing to my own children – or changing? In the process, how too do we honour the journey of those before us, even as we may intend to change the course of our present-day family?
Our family tree is a legacy I intend to leave for our own children, and that of our descendants. The names, dates, record of information, and the ancestral story itself is part of that legacy. But so too is my own story – one day it will be a valuable treasure to someone.
My legacy comes in the form of the physical research and recording, but it also comes in what I lay into my children’s hearts, what difference I make in the world to those around me, and how greatly I loved. I hope to change history simply by being who God has intended for me to be, and laying a legacy that will change the future of my descendants for the better.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to write on how to start researching your family history.