I love history. So, it was no surprise that when someone mentioned finding an 1891 census of England on a genealogy website, I wondered if themes of my grandparents might be found there.
Little did I know that the moment I signed on to Ancestry.com, it would signify the end of every minute of my free time. I soon ended up with a permanent membership to the genealogical website, and became deeply addicted to delving into my family’s distant past.
Now, years later, I am inspired by historical research to create intricate plotlines for my bestselling books. But aside from my professional writing, I still have a passion for genealogy that readers and writers might want to try for themselves.
By diving into genealogy, I unlocked secrets about my ancestors that my relatives never knew, and I now understand the reasons for many previously puzzling events in my own family history.
for example, my mother always wondered why her father was so determined to take his wife and six children to America. My mom just didn’t know the reasoning behind the difficult decision because no one talked about it.
With a little detective work, I found the answers that had been left unspoken. I now know that my grandfather’s own parents tragically died when he was a boy. He was raised by his grandparents. Several years later, his grandfather took his own life and his grandmother emigrated to Massachusetts to be with her adult children—that decision led to the rest of the family following in her footsteps. My mother was only seven-years-old at the time and the story was never shared with her as a child.
But digging into the past is more than figuring out your family’s mysteries…it’s also looking deeper at the time in history that your family was part of.
But what if you don’t like history?
As a former teacher, I suggest taking a fresh look at what studying history can mean. It’s important to bear in mind that history is more than reviewing a list of dates and facts about important events. History is really the study of people. It’s fascinating to discover what motivated people and how the decisions they made really caused important events to happen. It’s also interesting to connect the dots between the original motivation that caused certain historic events and how those decisions ended up making such a major impact on people through the centuries.
I discovered that understanding history can offer perspective into the family’s story, and the family’s experience can bring history to life. Finding out my great-grandmother died of smallpox shocked me and led to research into the compulsory vaccination programs of the day that probably contributed to her death since she was likely pregnant with her fourth child. Discovering she was buried in a communal grave opened my eyes to how terrifyingly prevalent smallpox must have been in England about that time.
Today, we are faced with alarmingly similar challenges. Can we learn from history?