Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit two small towns in Massachusetts where my 17th-century ancestors inhabited. As my family is composed of ardent genealogists, I have tended to be more passive about family history. However, I am reconsidering why I, a 26-year-old in 2013, should take part in the spirit of Elijah, and study my ancestors who lived almost 300 years ago. This list is not exhaustive:
1. It de-centers me as an individual. In this increasingly self-centered society we live in, I think it is emotionally and intellectually healthy to remember that we are simply a part of a long line of individuals who were born, lived, and died. It also gives me a greater sense of humility, realizing that I can't take full credit for how my life has turned out. I live in this country, for example, as a result of my French Huguenot ancestors who risked a tumultuous sea voyage to settle here and enjoy religious freedom.
2. It puts my struggles in perspective. When peering down at one of my ancestors' graves, I realized that she was buried with 5 of her children, none of whom lived past the age of five. I was immediately ashamed of how comparatively comfortable my life has been. Yet if my ancestor could bear this struggle, I can withstand trials too. It's literally in my blood.
3. It gives me a sense of belonging. Looking at my family history makes me realize that I am inextricably tied to a greater family than I can imagine. As a single woman living far from home, it gives me comfort knowing that that I live an hour away from my ancestors' hometowns.
4. It makes me aware of the impact that my decisions will have on future generations. Having looked at my family history, I am increasingly cognizant of how my ancestors' decisions have affected me. I am an American, a Mormon, and a book-lover, partially because of them. Subsequently, I try to keep in mind that I am living not only for myself, but for later generations.