Shattered Families and 9 Other Enduring Lessons from Studying Genealogy

minerd_anniversary_icon_ol_As my website celebrates its 15th anniversary later this week on May 7, I’ve decided to share a top 10 list of quirky and sometimes painful lessons I’ve learned about legacy and human nature during the study of family history.

  1. Everybody dies – None of us gets out of this mortal coil alive. You can spend the finite and diminishing number of days of your existence wisely, or not. It’s your call.
  1. Legacy – Those who don’t create a legacy of memories in the living generations are destined for oblivion. Love is the greatest leave-behind. A close second is a thoughtful hand-written letter. What would you say in a letter that your grandchildren’s grandchildren might see someday, far off in the future?
  1. Families are shattered – The grand illusion in our culture is that something is terribly wrong if families are not harmonious and always getting along. The brutal fact is that the traditional family unit today can be broken, hateful and toxic, unless someone intervenes who is mentally tough and filled with unselfish love. What can you do to break the cycle?
  1. Photos are gold – Photographs of loved ones of the past are one of the great treasures of family life. If you have some, don’t hoard. Share them. Label them. Use them as a peace offering. Antique shops across the nation are filled with fabulous stacks of snapshots of anonymous faces that nobody wants.
  1. Family history will bore everybody else. Names, dates, lists, ugh. Find a way to gather the stories and tell them well. People always pay attention to the stories.
  1. Translate stories into geek-speak – Sharing family history works best in the language of your audience. If you want your children or grandchildren to engage, speak to them in the way that best appeals to them. Instead of telling them to put away their mobile device, get your own device and talk to them via that technology. Tell a story and post it on Facebook, or make a YouTube video.
  1. Written legacy – My 83-year-old uncle in Florida recently authored his own memoirs complete with lots of photos as a gift to his children and grandchildren, telling the story of the ups and downs of his life. A legacy in writing is awfully powerful. I wish my own granddads had written down some of their memories, even if on a page of old tablet paper or even on the back of a napkin. Get serious about taking an hour or two to jot down some of your stories. They don’t need to be perfectly told; they just need to be real.
  1. Everyone acts in his or her own self-interest – There is no man or woman I’ve met who is not self-absorbed to some extent. No one will respond to you until you first show you are interested in them and that you care. Get creative in demonstrating that value as you engage with others in the hunt.
  1. An emotional void – Gathering family stories often fills an empty space in one’s emotions, especially for those whose immediate families are broken beyond repair. I’m sure my own addiction to genealogy is some result of a void in my soul created upon the unexpected death of my grandfather Odger Miner when I was 6½. Sometimes roots are the only common ground for parents, children, brothers and sisters who are at war with each other. Use the process to unify, not divide.
  1. Connectivity and diversity – Everyone needs to feel connected, and especially to something larger than themselves, and the broad diversity of the family today provides that in a most remarkable way. All told among the Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor clan’s thousands of branches, our cousins in 2015 are white, black, native American, Hispanic, Latino, Polynesian, Asian, European and more. They practice their religious faith in Protestant, Catholic, Hebrew, Latter Day Saint, Buddhist, Muslim and Islam houses of worship, among others. It puts the recent race-centered riots in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore into a completely different perspective. If my point #3 above is true, and many families are broken almost to the point of no repair, what hope then is there for broader society?

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