16 April 2024

Why Are You Doing Genealogy Research?

When I was a kid, Dad bought me two big jigsaw puzzles. He taught me how to find the edges and look for the right shapes, then he let me figure out my own method. We glued the finished puzzles, framed them, and hung them on the wall. Decades later I bought more puzzles and hung them up. When I graduated to better wall art, I turned my love of puzzles to crossword puzzles.

Then I discovered the biggest, farthest-reaching, never-ending puzzle of all. Genealogy! I like to think of my insanely big family tree as a jigsaw puzzle that has no edges. I can keep fitting people together for the rest of my life.

Does Your Family Tree Have a Greater Purpose?

Think about your own family tree. What's the purpose behind your research? Is it to find and preserve relationships? If you're doing good work, you can make a contribution to lots of other genealogy researchers, too. (If you're not publishing your family tree anywhere, you really should!)

That's why I enjoy my genealogy purpose so much. I'm working to fit together everyone born in my handful of ancestral hometowns. The families I added to my tree this past weekend have no real relationship to me. But we are all connected through a network of marriages. See "Genealogy is the Joy of Names."

I've identified all 16 of my 2nd great grandparents using vital records. I can also name all but one of my 32 3rd great grandparents. I'm missing the names of:

  • 9 of my 64 4th great grandparents
  • 42 of my 128 5th great grandparents
  • 146 of my 256 6th great grandparents
  • 433 of my 512 7th great grandparents

I've ID'd 31 of my 8th great grandparents and 9 of my 9th great grandparents, and that's as far as it goes. I've milked everything I can out of the available vital records. (See "Genealogy Obsession Pays an Unexpected Dividend.") The only way I'll ever find those missing ancestors is if I can access church records in the future.

My ancestors were peasants in poor Italian towns, so there's little I can learn about them. I have one distant cousin who was a rebel fighting against Italian unification. He's a rare relative who's had accounts written about him. Stateside, I'm 3rd cousins with Josh Saviano ("The Wonder Years") and 5th cousins with Gwen Stefani. But I'm more intrigued by my beloved dead Italians.

Find a higher purpose for your genealogy research and no task seems too great.
Find a higher purpose for your genealogy research and no task seems too great.

Spread the Wealth

Since I love the research, I'm building my family tree to benefit others.

People often write to me because they found their ancestors in my family tree online. Most of the time I have to tell them we're not related, but yeah, I've documented your whole family. I love when this happens because my never-ending puzzle is helping other people. And it'll continue to help people long after I'm gone.

Currently I'm finding birth records for out-of-towners who married someone from my ancestral towns. The inspiration for this project came from my Feb. 27th article, "5 Ways to Find Loose Ends in Your Family Tree."

Each day I sort the people in my tree by birth date. Then I follow clues that lead me to missing birth records. I've had so many successes! And each time I add more people, I know I may be helping another researcher out there.

I began this project with people born in 1870, and I've gotten through those born in 1901. Italian birth records are not available after 1915, so once I get there, I'll go backwards from 1869. My family tree has 80,000 people, and almost all come from a very small geographical area. It amazes me every day.

Find Your Genealogy Purpose

Many of you are lucky enough to have actual written accounts of your ancestors. If that's your situation, and you're busy compiling those accounts, I urge you to share your work. When I researched my son's fiancée's family, I found published documentation about them. Her family had been in one county for centuries, and there's a wealth of information about them. (See "Stay True to Your Genealogy Discipline.")

Wouldn't it feel good to be the key resource for someone else's genealogy research?

Maybe your purpose is to find every descendant of a particular ancestral couple. Think how valuable that research could be to another descendant.

Perhaps you're trying to figure out who your unknown parent or grandparent is. Building trees for potential ancestors can be the key to connecting with a DNA match.

Whatever your purpose, don't confine yourself to sticking within those jigsaw-puzzle edges. Branch out as you feel like it. Enjoy the little victories of finding that one missing birth record. Put your research skills to work and help others at the same time.

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