Why Do People Study Genealogy? A Complete Guide


I know why I study genealogy – and Breanne knows why she does. But we’ve definitely wondered why other people study it, too. So why do people study genealogy? What are all of the possible reasons?

People study genealogy for any and all reasons, including education, entertainment, knowledge, understanding, therapy, religious beliefs, unknown reasons, and to create a family narrative. Everyone studies genealogy for a personal reason and finds personal answers within their family’s history and lineage.

Are you still wondering why people study genealogy? Let’s talk about why – and discuss the amazing benefits that have been inspiring family historians to keep researching and reaching for more.

Why People Study Genealogy

Everyone has their own personal reason for studying genealogy. And, while you’re researching genealogy those reasons can change or evolve dramatically. The reasons for doing genealogy can also evolve over the years.

Even so, here are some of the most common reasons why people look to history for answers.

  • Education about a specific family, event, or individual.
  • Entertainment – yes, genealogy and family history are fun and entertaining!
  • To find historical knowledge and wisdom that could be useful today.
  • To discover a better level of understanding – about how your family became the way it is or how your family’s narrative evolved.
  • Therapy.
  • To give service to others.
  • You’re a genealogy addict – you love it so much that you’ve just got to do it! Genealogy is the fun, good kind of addicting! 🙂
  • Religious reasons – that may or may not include other reasons.
  • To create a personal (or family) narrative that draws heavily on family history experiences for anecdotal proof.
  • Unknown reasons – you just have to do it or find an answer.

Some people may have only a single reason for doing genealogy. Perhaps they’re only participating as part of a school assignment, for example. It’s far more likely, though, that you’ll have multiple reasons for why you do (and enjoy) genealogy.

For many of us, genealogy is both fascinating and fun – and we’ve got multiple reasons for doing and loving family history.

On the surface, perhaps your motivations are discovery-based. It’s solving a real-life mystery that’s directly related to your own situation and family. Each discovery leads to more questions and more discoveries. Doing genealogy makes history come to life! It’s amazing when you get to see how your own family story fits into the bigger historical picture or how your family was (or was not) affected by well-known historical events.

Deeper down, perhaps doing genealogy creates a deep, satisfying bond to your family that gives you a sense of connectedness that you didn’t know you were lacking. In that way, it’s therapeutic and soothing to your soul.

Why People Who Study Genealogy Have Different Levels of Enthusiasm about Family History

As with any other hobby or activity, each person has a different level of enthusiasm and commitment to genealogy. That’s just part of how, we as humans, operate. It’s kind of cool to watch, though!

For example, I enjoy doing genealogy. I enjoy it far more while I’m in the zone of family history research. When I’m not “in the zone,” though, I’m just as likely to talk about other subjects or interests. Breanne, on the other hand, is pretty much always in the genealogy zone. She can talk about it passionately and intelligently at any time. It’s really cool!

It’s the same for any other hobby or interest. There’s a wide variety in the spectrums of commitment, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.

  • Some people don’t enjoy it now but participate, knowing it’s something they may learn to love in the future.
  • Many people are trying it out, wondering if it will develop into a hobby or area of passion.
  • Some people feel compelled to do genealogy. They don’t much care for it, but they’re doing it anyway.
  • Others love doing family history while they’re in the genealogy zone – but they also love other hobbies and interests.
  • Some people are genealogy enthusiasts – and can talk about it at any time or anywhere. Of these people, some will talk about genealogy without warning – and others will give some warning. Neither way is wrong – these people are genealogists and they love what they do!

Even so, let’s talk more about the common reasons why people do genealogy.

Common Reasons People Study Genealogy

In our experience, one of the most common reasons people study genealogy is because they need to – even if they don’t know why that is upfront.

These people have an unexplainable urge and drive to understand the people who’ve gone before them. Usually, this curiosity develops and deepens over time. It becomes an itch that has to be scratched.

For example, countless adoptees grow up only vaguely wondering about their birth families. Then, usually as an adult or once they begin having children of their own, a powerful desire to know more about their birth families kicks into play. I’ve had a friend who experienced this – and I got to see as her search unfolded. And yes, she found her answers! It was an amazing journey to take with her.

Countless people simply feel an unexplainable connection and curiosity about the people who have gone before them. They develop an overwhelming need to know all about the people that led to their existence and circumstances. Genealogy fulfills that deep yearning to know more about both yourself and your family.

Then, as a bonus, you also get to learn what their lives were like, their circumstances, their failures and triumphs, commonalities in character and physical traits, and more. Doing so connects you to your people, your family’s places, your ancestral culture, and your heritage. It’s a powerful thing!

Another common reason to study genealogy is to find answers and/or discover more about your family. You may (or may not) be actively trying to find that family, cultural, and heritage pride. But you find it anyway! And it’s still an amazing experience.

No matter why you do genealogy, you quickly discover that it unlocks some pretty amazing benefits.

Why People Do Family History: The Benefits of Genealogy

We all do things because they benefit us, right? So let’s talk about some of the benefits of doing genealogy and family history. First, we’ll cover the basic reasons. Some will even have some scientific evidence showing that these benefits really are that awesome. Then we’ll cover why Breanne and I do genealogy – and the benefits we’ve seen from our research and work.

The best scientific evidence of the benefits of genealogy is a study done by Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, professors at Emory University. They developed a serious of 20 questions dubbed the “Do You Know” scale (you can see the 20 questions hereOpens in a new tab.).

They found that children who knew their genealogy, in the form of a family narrative, were more resilient in the face of adversity and were, overall, healthier than those without a sense of family identity via a family narrative. In other words, children who know about their family’s stories can cope better – and are more emotionally, mentally, and psychologically stable.

But back to the study. Duke and Fivush asked a group of children these questions, recorded some family interactions, compared what they found to some psychological tests, and had some amazing findings. They found that children who did best at the “Do You Know” questions were more resilient and healthier (emotionally, mentally, and psychologically) than those children who did not do as well on the questionnaire.

The children who scored best on the questionnaire were those with a strong sense of family identity and a family narrative of the family going through ups and downs but being able to weather the storms together. Children with other family narratives of either survival or success did well on the tests but did not score as high.

This study was originally done just a few months before the terror attacks of 9/11/2001. After the attacks, they were able to go back and reinterview the children. The results were the same – children who did best on their “Do You Know” questionnaire were those that understood and had a family narrative. Having a family narrative, where they understood that their family had ups and downs but came through things together, even after a terrifying national experience, the most resilient and healthy on emotional, mental, and psychological levels.

The studies and articles point out that the answers to the questions aren’t the key takeaway, though. It’s the narrative that’s what important! Simply talking to your family about your shared history is what gives your children a strong sense of support.

Having a family identity and story gives children a base to draw from. They know that both bad and good things happen – but they know that their family has gotten through things before. And so they know they can get through them, too.

Genealogy is more than just stories, though. Learning about genealogy can also be a learning opportunity for the whole family. I mean, come on! How cool is it to learn about DNA with your own DNA – with your whole family. Science is so awesome!

Genealogy can further be an experience in writing, journaling, personal essays, storytelling, library research skills, languages, art, critical thinking and reasoning, history, and more. You could build a whole curriculum on genealogy that would lead to a well-developed, thorough, and amazing education. How cool is that?

Even if you aren’t meaning to give yourself (or anyone else) an amazing education based on genealogy, it will still have that benefit of giving you tons of knowledge and wisdom.

Why We Study Genealogy: the Benefits We See

Okay – now I promised you to explain why Breanne and I do genealogy – and the benefits we’ve seen from doing our own family history work. Here’s Breanne’s story, in a nutshell.

It’s difficult to put into words how doing genealogy has benefitted me and my family. I feel happier when I work on my genealogy. I love to see my kids get excited about it too! I love to see my kids take pride in cooking grandma great’s recipes for Thanksgiving. They listen better to history when they know members of our family were there. Genealogy gives history context (and a knowledge of history gives family history context).

Breanne

Breanne does use family history as a vehicle for teaching her children all sorts of subjects – and her kids thrive learning that way! It’s really cool to watch. It almost makes me want to homeschool, too. Almost.

As for me, I love doing family history for multiple reasons, too. It gives me a better understanding of myself, my family members, and history. Doing genealogy also gives me some amazing ideas for storytelling – both in telling stories to our children, teaching them our family narrative and in my writing.

And while writing fiction may not be explicitly tied to genealogy, using my family’s stories in my writing is good for me – and it makes for some pretty amazing stories that I love to share with others. So, it really is genealogy – even if I do add a few fantastic details.

And these are just the benefits we can detail. There are others, as Breanne said, that deal with our feelings. Those can be harder to explain – but we’ll keep trying and writing about it here on our website. 🙂

Why Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Do and Study Genealogy

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ study and do genealogy for multiple reasons. And our commitment to doing genealogy comes on a spectrum – just as it does for members of other or no faiths.

  • Some members do genealogy because family is an important enough part of our beliefs that they do it as encouraged, even if it’s not one of their top 10 favorite activities.
  • Some members enjoy doing genealogy while they’re in the midst of it – and enjoy seeing the fruits of their research take form in an amazing, connected family tree.
  • Some members are super-gung-ho about genealogy. They love doing it and helping others do theirs. These people may even dream about being called as the ward (local congregation’s) family history specialist.

So that covers our commitment to doing genealogy – but why do members of the Church study genealogy? It’s tied into our beliefs about how all of humanity is one family that needs to be informed of our divine birthright and heritage as a single, complete family unit.

Church members believe that we’re all both literal and figurative brothers and sisters. As such, it’s vital that the entire human family be connected to each other. Doing genealogy is a way to show that connection.

Members of the Church believe that doing genealogy will open up the blessings of heaven – here is one of our favorite videos put out by the Church detailing those blessings.

One of our beliefs is that families are forever – and those family connections will exist beyond death. So finding those connections is important.

Sometimes I call family history my “cure-all” – because after watching that video, there’s not a whole lot that they don’t cover. It really can bless you “in every aspect of your life.”

Breanne

Once members are able to show, through genealogy, those family connections, members are able to do vicarious temple work for direct family relationships in accordance with Church policy. Doing vicarious temple work for our deceased ancestors doesn’t force our beliefs upon anyone (that would violate our belief in agency). Rather, vicarious work for the dead gives our ancestors the choice to accept or decline to share our beliefs.

This is an involved and detailed topic, though, so we’ll have to address it in further posts. Or, for more information on the Church’s policies on genealogy and temple work, please refer to the Church’s website ChurchofJesusChrist.orgOpens in a new tab..

Related Questions

Who Studies Genealogy? Millions of people study genealogy for various reasons. Scientists, artists, historians, families, and individuals study genealogy for different personal or professional answers. For more information, read our article on who studies genealogy.

Which Genealogy Test is Best? The best test will depend on which genealogy answers you need. Unless you need specific information from one side of your family, an atDNA test is generally sufficient. Read which DNA and genealogy tests are best for specific situations in our post here.

Which Genealogy Site is Best? The best free genealogy site is FamilySearch.org and the best pay-to-access genealogy site is Ancestry.com. Read our rationale for that decision in our post about the best genealogy sites here.

Citations and Sources

  1. Duke, Marshall P. “The Stories That Bind Us: What Are the Twenty Questions?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 23 May 2013, www.huffpost.com/entry/the-stories-that-bind-us-_b_2918975?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAABXJc2qqS2cgkWsOrhMb3GN8aSXMOB5O368umocA6hHEvmFN8KbaE_97mfc1fiVZzl3IX9yAbmakNDDZLbSXKJajoxTykbGiPwithKsvTfsyhV7rpWT5FQJc5xZzeH8671XJfX_0xV-uCcAmw0Lb3qP6TnzesyATiiIvwmd-qA3i.
  2. Feiler, Bruce. “The Stories That Bind Us.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html.
  3. “Finding Your Roots: The Seedlings.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/show/finding-your-roots-seedlings/.
  4. Messer, Elyse, et al. “Personalized Curriculum Captures Students’ Imagination, Interest.” Penn State University, news.psu.edu/story/505950/2018/02/17/research/personalized-curriculum-captures-students-imagination-interest.
  5. Strong, EveryDay. “EveryDay Strong: Teaching Kids about Family History Helps Increase Resilience.” Daily Herald, 23 Feb. 2019, www.heraldextra.com/news/community/charities/everyday-strong-teaching-kids-about-family-history-helps-increase-resilience/article_dbd0ef09-7570-5848-853a-87a2af730729.html.
  6. “The ‘Do You Know?” 20 Questions About Family Stories.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories.
  7. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, www.churchofjesuschrist.org/.
  8. Wallace, Kelly. “How Children Benefit from Learning Their Family History.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 June 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/06/03/living/telling-kids-family-history-benefits-feat/index.html.

Kimberly

I'm a ginger who loves reading, eating, being a nurse, doing genealogy, spending time with my family, and writing about it all. I believe humor is the best medicine, followed very closely by chocolate and tacos. To read more about me, click here.

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