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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Family History Helps Bridge the Generations and the Miles
by Rhonda R. McClure

October 31, 2002
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

I have long enjoyed the thrill of genealogical research. I have long been fascinated by the process of first establishing what the question is that I want to answer and then setting about to find the answer. Of course, the great part is that for every answer, I often find I have at least two more questions. This is the hobby that never really ends.

But one of the most amazing perks of doing the family history is the people I have come to know, both living and dead. I have met many wonderful cousins, and many other genealogists who are friendly. I often marvel at the way genealogists are so willing to help each other, especially online. Genealogy truly does bridge the generations and the miles.

Genealogy is more than a hobby, it is an anchor and a bridge.

Bridging the Miles

So many of us find that our families are now spread all over the country. My own immediate family spans from the east to the west costs of the United States. I know of others who have similar situations, where they live in New York, for instance, and sons live in Illinois. We truly have become a far reaching family.

Sometimes the extreme distance in miles makes us feel like we are no longer connected. I have found that researching the family tree has brought that connection back. Knowing that the two of us are working on the same lineage gives us something in common, despite the many other differences that result from our living in two different places. Having that reason to e-mail or pick up the phone keeps us in contact, instead of letting too much time go by between talks.

Researching the family tree has also introduced me to cousins I didn't know I had before. What a wonderful feeling it is to open an e-mail and find a new cousin. Once in awhile I have come across a cousin through a Web site or because they shared their information in a database, such as the World Family Tree. I will admit that despite having been researching my family tree for some twenty years, I still get excited when I make a new contact or find new information.

Bridging the Generations

With each new generation I can fill out on the pedigree chart, I get a sense of accomplishment. I marvel at the information I have uncovered, some by myself but more often through the help of others. I thrill at the connection I have with history, especially the day-to-day history. After all, those who worked hard each day just to keep their farm going or their family alive don't get written up in the history books, but it is through their perseverance that most of us are here today.

I like the connection I feel to history. I marvel at the lives my ancestors have lived. The more I find out about them the more amazed I am that I am here today. Here I sit tapping away at a computer, often working late into the night as I try to pin down these individuals, relying heavily on the marvels of technology. My ancestors were in bed when the sun went down, and were up when the sun rose, relying on fire and the animals they raised to help them accomplish the things they needed to get done. There was little time, or energy, for what we have come to demand in the way of fun time.

I have marveled at the strength of my ancestors so often. And yet, I was once reminded that they may be looking down on me marveling at the life lived today. Astounded as we tame the mechanical beasts that we use to get from one place to another. They probably find our present life as overwhelming and incomprehensible as we do their life.

Anchoring the Family

In our hectic days we often find we don't have any time left for the family. Genealogy has offered me some special times with my children. I have taken one to Salt Lake City with me to work in the Family History Library. Another of my children loves to come into my office and file away the copies I have made. Still another loves to go with me to cemeteries to take pictures. With each of these experiences I have been privy to some inside, special, conversations that my children might not have shared with me in our daily rush about life.

All of my children have an understanding of history and some of them have marveled at some of the more family relationships that have been uncovered. To date none surpasses the connection I discovered to author Laura Ingalls Wilder. As my daughters have all read her books, they have felt like she was a friend. To know she is also a cousin gives them a definite connection to the past, and makes Laura Ingalls Wilder all the more real to them.

I know that some of your family still consider genealogy nothing more than the searching for boring names, dates and places. Of course, even those members of our families who have frequently shared such an opinion with us often find themselves asking us who we uncovered in our latest research trip.

In Conclusion

Genealogy and the researching of the family tree are much more than just a hobby. They offer bridges and anchors to help us get through this hectic often unexplainable worlds that we have inherited. They offer us something stable to hold onto. In some ways they are the glue that keeps me connected in the here and now.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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