Who Are You From?: Why Genealogy Is Important

woman with long blonde hair wearing gold clothes and a crown

Do you have royal blood,

or a horse thief in the family?  Are you certain your ancestors really came from Transylvania? How do you know if any of the family legends passed down are true?

“Roots”, a mini-series that first aired in 1977, did a great service for the genealogy industry.  The TV series “Who Do You Think You Are” has revived an interest in genealogy research.  No doubt DNA testing has sparked family history research into the stratosphere.  DNA testing alone won’t help much.  If you’re interested in your family history, you have to do some digging.

This post contains affiliate links.  Click here for more info. If you are interested in ordering a DNA test, click here.

I lump people into three groups regarding genealogy.

There’s the group that:

Has no interest in their family legacy whatsoever

Are interested but have no desire to do the actual research

Are the crazy people who would take a week’s vacation and spend it at the Family History Center library doing nothing but genealogy research.

Yes, I spent a week in Utah at the world’s largest genealogy library.

dining room table in front of a wall with a giant genealogy chart taped to the wall

While I know some don’t understand my desire

and dedication to “look up a bunch of dead people”, I don’t understand those who have no desire to know more about the people from which they came.  That group baffles me.

I do understand the second group.  Those who are interested in the family line, and interesting stories, but don’t make the effort to do any research “hands on”.  Most of the people I know are like this.

I remember sitting down with my parents

with a large notepad, and “interviewing” them.  At that time, I didn’t have any of the cool forms that make it so much easier to track information.  I also didn’t have a genealogy program in my computer.  In fact, I didn’t even have a computer!

old fashioned black and white picture of an older coupleI asked my folks a series of questions, starting with their parents full names, date of birth and date of death.  Once I had that, I went back another generation and got info on my great-grandparents.  My parents were more than happy to fill in whatever blanks I had, but couldn’t go much further than their great grandparents.  In addition to going backwards on my direct line, I also asked about siblings of my ancestors, and their children.

My dad had a packet of info

old black and white picture of four poor looking children

sent to him by his cousin many years before I became curious about my lineage.  Thankfully she was in category 3; a crazy genealogy researcher.  She did extensive research, and sent my dad copies of pictures, an outline of the family tree, and arrest records from my great-great grandfather during the Civil War.  He’d been arrested 11 times for desertion…

My parents were both very helpful, and if they didn’t know an answer, they’d suggest a relative who might know.  “Why don’t you call my cousin XYZ and ask them?”  I hadn’t considered my parent’s first cousins could be a hidden source of info.  I wrote up all my questions ahead of time, and began contacting cousins left and right.

close up black and white photo of my grandparentsWhile some of them had more info than others, all of them had at least something to contribute to my search.  I was curious about both sides of my family, and each of my parents felt that their particular side of the family was more interesting than that of their spouse’s!

That is another universal truth I’ve found in genealogy research;

No one will ever be as interested in your family as you are.  Others may be happy for you as you make a great discovery, but it’s not the same if you’re not related.  I love genealogy, so I love to hear other people’s stories. While I do find them interesting, I still think MY family is the most fascinating of all.

black and white profile picture of a man, my grandfather, wearing a coat and tieI recently broke through a “brick wall” that had been stumping my family for decades.  I’ll go into more detail on how that happened in a future post.  Just yesterday I met a cousin (second cousin once removed to be precise), that up until a few months ago I didn’t know existed.  We had a small family reunion, (it was an absolute blast!) and will have a larger reunion next month.

When people can’t understand why I’d be interested in researching “dead people”, I always have to correct them.  Yes it is true that a lot of research is around those who are no longer alive.  However, as I go back generation after generation, I find siblings of my ancestors.  Those siblings had children, and grandchildren, and so on.  All of those kids are my cousins.

I have met a handful of distant cousins, and it is wonderful.

The nice thing about this has been these cousins are all into genealogy.  We woulddiscover new cousins with DNA not have found each other if that had not been the case.  Aside from being wonderful people, they also have valuable info that I can add to my family tree.  I, in turn, have been very happy to help them as well.

My cousin Simon

lives in Europe.  We are 5th cousins, and share 4th great grandparents.  (Or great, great, great, great grandfather/mother).  We met online over a decade ago, while researching the Pottinger line (my maiden name).  Years later we became Facebook friends.  He posted about his upcoming vacation (holiday) in California.  I sent him a message asking what part of California he was planning to visit.  I was able to drive up to San Francisco and meet him and his family.  Years later when my sister vacationed in Europe, she was able to spend time with him.  None of this would have happened without genealogy research.

My cousin Aileen

photo of tan and cream colored cow with her head between the horizontal fence boardslives in the UK.  Although we have relatives to whom we know we are both related, we have a “missing link” that tells us exactly what level of cousins we are.  My Scottish side of the family has phenomenal records.  The records connecting Aileen and me were kept in a church.  During a rainstorm the roof leaked, soaking the documents recording our common ancestors.  As the story goes, the sheets of paper were left outside to dry, and a grazing cow ate them!  My childhood dog ate my Barbie dolls, clothing and retainer, and a cow ate my heritage records!

My cousin Randy

(second cousin once removed – or my dad’s second cousin) lives in Pennsylvania.  He responded to a letter I sent to every Pottinger I could find in the US.  His grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers.  We exchanged letters, and he even sent me an original document that contained my great grandfather’s signature.

black and white photo of a man sitting in a wicker chair with two fake alligators near his feet

I met Randy many years ago while I was traveling to attend a friend’s wedding.  He and his mom took me to the cemetery where my great, and great-great grandparents are buried.  We visited several cemeteries and I took pictures of my ancestor’s final resting place.  I would never have been able to do any of this without Randy’s help.  He was in possession of documents that took that branch of my family to the 1700’s.

There are other cousins that I’ve communicated with but have not met in person (yet).  They have all been a wealth of information, and I enjoy keeping in contact with them.  Facebook has helped facilitate keeping in touch, and a growing segment of my friends are actually my cousins.

My grandfather used to tell us stories about his mom and family.

As his memory started to lapse, he would repeat those stories.  I was young, and didn’t really pay too much attention to them.  Oh how I wish I would have taken notes when gramps relived the old days!

colorized photo of an older woman smilingI am very fortunate that in my research, I have tapped into other relatives who have been generous in sharing their info.  While I like to look up the information and verify the validity of it, sometimes it does not exist.  All I have to fill in the blanks are the memories of the people who took the time to record it.


When family stories are gone, they are gone forever.

There are things that I may never discover about my ancestors, because no one recorded it for future generations.  Even with a clear lineage, names and dates are not very interesting.  I love the fact that my great-great gramps did time during the Civil War!  I’d like to know more about WHY he deserted, and kept doing so, so many times.

tombstone in a cemetery with the last name "Pottinger" carved into it.

I was fascinated to learn, through simple math, that a handful of my ancestors got married because “they had to”.  I do feel badly that some got married only because they were pregnant, but if that had not happened, I would not be here, so I am grateful for that.

I’m thankful that I started the research when I did, even though I wish I would have started sooner.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet family members, and hear stories because of genealogy.

I am also grateful for the advancements in DNA testing.

In my main brick wall ancestor, I would never have been able to break through if not for the DNA test.  If you’re interested in genealogy research with the help of DNA, click here.

close up of three twisted blue DNA strands against a dark blue background

I am currently in the process of helping a cousin who was adopted out of the family find her birth mother.  Based on her DNA test, she is likely my 3rd cousin, and we share a great-great grandfather.  Or, our great grandfathers were brothers, if it’s easier to understand that way.

I would encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in genealogy

to start interviewing your family members today.  See what they can remember, and write it down.   Record a video of the interview if possible.  Somewhere down the line, there will be a descendant who is in category 3 – the crazy genealogist – and they will love you forever for capturing your family story.

I’d love to hear your best research victory, or your toughest brick wall you’ve yet to break through!  What have you learned about your family that you love, or don’t love?  You can comment on my Facebook page at Elaine’s Lane FB

Remember, someday, someone other than you will truly care!

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