Genealogy Personalizes History

I love history. I have even made my living as a history teacher, but until I finished high school I thought I hated the whole subject. That was because my history teachers made it incredibly boring. It wasn’t entirely their fault. They taught it the same boring way they were taught, which is also the way it is usually presented in textbooks, and the way standardized tests tend to incentivize it to be taught. I’m sure most of us can remember an interminable series of names and dates, kings and battles we were supposed to memorize.

It was only later, when I started reading books about history by choice, that I realized that I actually find it fascinating. History is not about lists of events. It is about human beings and their lives. It contains the word “story” because it consists of stories, and who doesn’t love a good story?

That is why, when I teach history, I always try to approach it through something the student already finds interesting, whether that be weapons or fashion or music or politics or anything else. History contains all of it.

I am also fascinated by genealogy, for the exact same reason, that it consists of human stories. I have been a genealogy hobbyist for many years. I find that while when I mention history, many people start to tune out, when I mention genealogy, most people perk up, especially if I can tell them something about their personal genealogy. We are all interested in learning about ourselves. I think that would be a great way to introduce history in schools.

Most elementary school students have a family history project at some point. I still have mine in a file somewhere, and I still remember interviewing my grandparents and drawing a picture of an heirloom punchbowl to put on the construction paper cover of my report. It amazes me that those projects rarely lead to any further exploration of history. It’s a great way in. History is something we are all living through, as our parents and grandparents and great grandparents did before us. It is not a separate thing that happens only to famous people.

Researching my own genealogy has taught me a lot about history, particularly about mistaken assumptions we tend to make about previous eras. I have a lot to say on this topic, which is why I am starting a new genealogy category on the blog. I hope some readers will find it interesting. I will certainly have fun writing the posts.

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2 Comments

Filed under Genealogy

2 responses to “Genealogy Personalizes History

  1. I will have to confess that I did not pay much attention to history at school and dropped it to take physics instead. I now have a renewed interest in both history and geography as a result of my genealogy research.

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  2. I’m also a big genealogy buff! It absolutely makes history come alive. A real highlight for me was the discovery of a 35 page single-space typed memoir of her childhood that my great grandmother wrote in 1935 when when she was 80. It reads like a real-life Little House on the Prairie! I’ve added maps and family trees and pictures and reproduced it for family members.

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