Tracing your ancestors has rapidly increased in popularity over the last decade, partly due to the internet, and programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? If you haven’t tried it yourself, it’s likely that someone you know will be. So what exactly are the benefits of tracing your family tree, and why is it so addictive?
There are many reasons why people might start to trace their ancestors. It could be that they are trying to find out something about a grandparent, find out about inherited diseases, an interest in history or (most likely) just a curiosity about who their ancestors were and whether they had had inherited any characteristics or skills.
For many people, however, it is not until they start working on their family history that they realise just how it can have very positive effects on their lives and how they feel about themselves.
Here are just a few of the benefits that people have described as a result of tracing their family history:
> A sense of identity
> A sense of pride
> A greater understanding of history
> Finding distant cousins you did not know you had
> Having an interesting hobby that keeps you occupied for many years
Let me take each one of these and look at them in more detail:
A sense of identity
This is one of the most popular benefits – yet often unexpected – that people express about tracing ancestors. People often find that once they have discovered several lines of their ancestral tree that they feel a strong sense of belonging to a family community. It is a particularly powerful and satisfying feeling to know that you are part of your family’s ongoing history, and that you yourself are a product of the ancestors who have been before.
A sense of pride
Most of us will find ancestors who have had to struggle to survive, or who have achieved something remarkable. Much of our research will put our own lives in perspective, making us realise just how easy our lives are compared to that of our ancestors. Knowing what our ancestors had to deal with in their every day lives often produces a strong sense of pride in their ability to survive or achieve.
A greater understanding of history
Many of us found school curriculum history fairly boring, but family history brings general history to life because you suddenly realise that you are personally connected to historical events through your direct ancestors who lived through them and were often involved in them. It is a brilliant way to introduce anyone to history.
Finding distant cousins
Many ancestry website enable you to publish your family history, and it is more than likely that someone else descended from one of your ancestors is also tracing their ancestry and will find you through these websites. Personally I have been in contact with several distant cousins through Genes Reunited and Ancestry, and it is really delightful to expand your family and share your common ancestors with them.
Having an interesting hobby
Once you start tracing your ancestors you may find that it becomes completely addictive – you have been warned! As well as being fascinating, interesting and educational, it also can encourage you to travel (to your ancestor’s homes or to local archives) and find out more about historical events and places. A family tree is never complete – so it will keep you occupied for many, many years.