Iâ€™m a genealogical junky. Itâ€™s mystifying, since my family never interested me. I was a scientist immersed in the physical world until the spirits of my ancestors demanded I find them. While other family members are delighted when I share what Iâ€™ve discovered, Iâ€™m the only addict in the family. I revel as the name of each new ancestor finds a resonance and place in my body. Knowing them, I feel different inside.
What lures homebodies like me on journeys across the globe in search of gravestones, wills, and church records? What is it about genealogy that makes normal people become obsessed, compelled to discover our ancestorsâ€™ names? Addiction to genealogy is such a common affliction that online stores sell t-shirts proclaiming â€œGenealogy Addict.â€ Helpful websites list the symptoms:
- You would rather read census schedules than a good book.Â
- Your idea of a great vacation is visiting cemeteries and historical societies.
- You have traced every one of your ancestral lines back to Adam and Eve, have it documented, and still don’t want to quit.
I knew I was hooked when I found myself tracing the genealogy of the Maine Coon cat we inherited.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tapped into the mysterious force that causes genealogical addiction and woven it into the fabric of its theology. They consider genealogical data collection a religious duty. In China, people compete to update genealogies burned by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. Genealogy was so important to the Maori of New Zealand that they symbolically inscribed it in the form of moko (tattoos) on their bodies with an albatrossâ€™s wing bone.
As I discover more about my forbearsâ€™ lives, I better understand the emotional and psychological patterns that have been passed down to me alongside my DNA. Iâ€™ve always been haunted by a sense of deprivation, which contrasts sharply with my comfortable material circumstances. I even thought I had no family left, other than my brother. That feeling of deprivation makes more sense, now that I know something about my ancestorsâ€™ cumulative poverty and struggles: Irish potato famine immigrants; a great-grandmother who lost four children due to undernourishment; and an emaciated, half-blind uncle who was killed robbing a bank.
Now that Iâ€™m aware of the origin of certain beliefs and behaviors, I can release old dysfunctional patterns and make new choices. And as I heal my sense of deprivation, I imagine the healing passing to my relatives along the lines of time.
Through genealogy, Iâ€™ve discovered an abundance of family, including a second cousin, an only child of an only child, who believed she had no blood relatives left in the world. When I reunited her with two flesh-and-blood second cousins and a history of our family, she thanked me for â€œthe best, most important giftâ€ sheâ€™d ever received.
Genealogy creates webs of connection. The more I discover about my ancestors, the more of humanity I include in my family and the less justification I have for prejudice and intolerance. With each new name, the connections multiply–through time and space–linking me to bygone families as well as present-day cousins across the globe.
Every family is woven into the tapestry of humankind, and understanding it gives me a larger perspective. Any vista of time can be reinterpreted when seen from another perspective. New visions of past, present, and future events create alternative routes to explore, expand, and heal.
I have the sense that what I learn in my life reverberates through time and impacts the souls of my ancestors as well as the descendents of our bloodline. Beneath all the cataloging of names and dates, there is something numinous about reweaving this web of family.
Some people derive a deep sense of interconnectedness with the universe through the revelations of quantum physics; I find it through my ancestors. Experiencing synchronicities and help from ancestors opens me to questioning the nature of reality. Where do my ancestors reside? Are the spiritual realms in other dimensions? What is the nature of time? Whatâ€™s the purpose of life? At a deep level, my addiction to genealogy is an expression of my innate desire for connection–to myself, to family, to humanity, to spiritual realms, and to the Creation.
Iâ€™m proud to be a genealogy junky, and I savor the delicious rush from each new discovery. Fortunately, I still have many more ancestral lines to trace before reaching Adam and Eve.Â
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Linda Jean Shepherd, Ph.D., is the author of Lifting the Veil: The Feminine Face of Science.