I was recently catching up with the new series of The Russell Howard Hour and was interested in Russell’s new feature where he tries new things in a bid to live longer. I’m not sure how effective the Finnish practice of ‘Päntsdrunk’ will be for him, but I wonder whether he has tried genealogy?
Before I began my own journey into my family history, I had no idea that it could help us all live forever. At face value, that may seem like a ridiculous statement, but think about it carefully and you will realise (as I did), that it is not as ridiculous as it might seem.
When researching our ancestors, we search through a long list of records trying to find the ‘right’ one. Census, Birth, Marriage and Death records, Parish Records, Wills- all of these (and many, many more) may record ancestors known and unknown. These are records we are accessing years after a person has left us, and although we may or may not know what our ancestors look like, we can tell what their names were, who their families were and sometimes what their personal circumstances may have been. Were they in a trade? Did they live in the same house for generations? What kind of relationship did they have with their family? Were they non-conformists? There is a real possibility of finding answers to these kind of questions through genealogy and family history. This surely means that no-one is completely gone and that we all have the potential to live forever through the records that have recorded us in life.
But this does not only apply to our ancestors. What will the genealogists of the future find out about us? With the rise of social media, will it be easier to find information about a person’s daily life? Will we all be judged by the researchers of the future on what we had for breakfast or our love of funny cat videos? Or will the ephemeral nature of email communication, that can be deleted at the touch of a button, mean that it will be harder for future genealogists to put together our lives?
As a genealogist, I have never really thought about people researching me after I’m gone, as I have always done the researching. But something anyone can do to tell future genealogists what their life was really like, is to write it down now. Small things that feel completely mundane to us (like where you went to school or holidays you went on), can be just as useful as the big things like who your parents were and where you were born. These things could mean the world to future family who never met you, as finding letters from our ancestors mean the world to us. And let’s face it, you only get an official biography if you’re really famous!
I wonder if Russell Howard could put a comedic spin on genealogy…..?