We all know the exhilaration of finding our ancestors on a census sheet or getting a packet in the mail with wonderful old photographs. That excitement we feel is what compels us to move forward with family tree research.
Sometimes it can overwhelm us.
Emotions Flying High
Do you remember your first big find? The goosebumps, the chills…you gasp. Maybe a tear rolled down your cheek. We all are touched by it.
I’ve told this story before. In one of my early research trips, I was looking through the 1910 Census at my local public library. My mission: prove my people lived on E. 25th Street in Oakland, California.
I was bleary eyed from going page by page through the film. My shoulder was stiff from turning the handle of the microfilm reader so many times.
Then, I saw the surnames. Pacheco, Cosma, Algrava, and Medeiros. I found them.
“Wow!” I thought. “They really existed”
I wanted to jump from my chair and yell “Woo hoo! They really were there!!!!!”, but I didn’t want to be barred from using the microfilm readers in the future.
I needed a moment to let it soak in. My relatives really were right there on that street just like they were supposed to be.
You know what? I never expect to feel such an emotional connection to the people I was researching. With this census find, I was beginning to move from names, dates, and places, to real people with stories, tragedies, and dreams.
All I can say is that something happens along the way. You start to feel like you know them. Then, you find a photograph. Suddenly, they have faces. They go from notes on a sheet of paper to images in your day dreams.
Your Heart Aches for Your Ancestors
You begin to wonder how they felt and why they did certain things. You wonder how they survived losing five or their six children in an epidemic.
You want to know ow they felt about events happening in Europe as World War I broke out. You start to feel sad when they endured a hardship. You understand the significance of the first female to graduate from college.
You find yourself unusually attached to different people in your tree. Yes, you have favorites.
Most of the time you’re fine with whatever genealogy throws at you. But, there are times when it can be overwhelming. These emotions for people who you’ve never met. It’s very strange and very normal.
Crying Over Spilled Milk
It can get a bit surreal at times. It is at those times we need to take a step back and absorb what we’ve learned. We need to give ourselves time to make sense of it all.
I felt this way when I learned that my 3rd great grandparents lost five young children in three years. There are no causes of death in the records, but considering the amount of children who died in the village during this period, I suspect an epidemic.
I could visualize my 3rd great grandmother tending them as they slipped away. She must have wept deeply with each added moment of grief.
I wonder if she ever got over her grief or did it consume her? Maybe she succumbed to whatever illness her children had when she died premature death at the age of 44.
I was taken aback at my sadness for her. I never expected to feel this way about people who lived in the previous century. I suspect as weird as those emotions seem, it is part of what keeps most of us coming back for more.
Let The Emotions Come
Don’t be surprise if somewhere along your genealogy journey you suddenly feel emotionally overwhelmed by things that happened before you came along.
How did they make it across the ocean or across the continent?
How did she raise 10 children after her husband died?
How did he survive day after day in the sugar cane fields?
When your great grandfather died suddenly from an accident on the farm, you feel your grandmother’s loss. How inconsolable your she must have been! How terrified she must have been for the future.
Finding living cousins can be as amazing as finding the dead ones. I know that if I ever connect with anyone from my great grandfather, Harry Kenneth Jackson’s line, that I am going to cry like a baby.
You are not alone, I can tell you that much. This roller coaster ride is all part of the process. You can’t spend so much time with your dead relatives and not feel that connection. It is simply not possible. It is what fuels the addiction and it is a part of what makes genealogy so fascinating.
1 thought on “The Emotional Aspect of Genealogy”
I am experiencing exactly what Melody is describing. It wasn’t until I was an adult that my father finally revealed that the man we had all called “Grandpa” was in fact his stepfather, and I finally learned the surname of my biological grandfather. His marriage to our grandmother had been brief — only a couple of years. But our dad was produced from that union.
A DNA test through Ancestry.com brought fourth the names of several cousins. Our real grandpa had seven siblings — four brothers and three sisters. Since then, I have been in touch with some of the cousins, and have learned a great deal about some of our great-aunts and uncles, and not so much about others.
I have been able to acquire documentation and photographs — very important to put faces to names, and confirm dates, places and events. Most of what I have learned through conversations with cousins has turned out to be amazingly accurate. Documentation and photographs have proven much of the information to be true.
Our father’s memories of his dad were sketchy, since he left the family when Dad was only three years old. He wasn’t able to recall very much, so recollections and firsthand knowledge from the cousins have proven very valuable in connecting the dots.
From all of this, I have discovered one of the great uncles who would have been a favorite uncle, had I known him during his lifetime. Two of the cousins have stated that he was their favorite uncle, too. The emotions I felt, and still feel, are palpable. They are strong, and they are completely understandable.
I love your article, Melody. It tells me I am not overreacting, nor am I weird in some way. These relatives and ancestors were real — as real as I am. There’s the connection. The humanness, the realness. I have wept for some of these people, as they experienced tragedies and I can’t imagine the heartache they must have endured, and which undoubtedly had shaped them and contributed to who and how they were.
By understanding these relatives and ancestors, and getting to know their living descendants, our cousins, I now understand our father much better, and this is also helping me to better understand myself. Traits, both physical and personality, and philosophies of life and wisdom and knowledge are all handed down through our lineages. While each of us is an individual, we share our genealogy in common with one another. This has been a rewarding process, but it has tugged at heartstrings. I have been amazed at how willing the cousins have been at sharing the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. They have been much more open than I could ever have hoped for or was expecting. I can feel the kinship that is definitely there. It’s as natural as breathing. And, it’s mutual. They have expressed their desire to meet me, and have told me over the phone that they feel as though they’ve known me all of their lives. This is as it should be with kin. And I am deeply happy to have made these discoveries, these connections, and formed these new relationships.