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.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com