The Importance of Family History

Why should you learn about your family history? Discovery, preservation and legacy.

Many of us are focused on the immediacy of now. We are frequently met with the question ‘what do you do?’ – usually meaning ‘what is your job?’, ‘who employs you?’ or something of a similar theme. Rarely, do we ask ‘how do you spend your time?’ – which allows the individual we’re talking to more flexibility in their answer, rather than boxing them in to a job or profession (which of course, could be how someone spends most of their time). It is also common to hear questions such as ‘where are you from?’ (usually referring to geographic location), but not so common to ask ‘where are you from?’ referring to your family history. But why be bothered about your family history?

There are many reasons why you may be interested in your family history and three key themes emerge when reviewing various sources, including books, websites, speaking to family historians and genealogists: Discovery, preservation and legacy.



This could be the discovery of other people, but will also be about discovering information about yourself. Finding new information about those who lived before us can bring a lot of joy, not only in the discovery of people we may not have known existed, but also in the nuances of their everyday lives; their name, school life, occupation(s), marriage(s), where they grew up, where they lived. These discoveries can also provide insight to your own life: some of those mannerisms or traits you’ve developed may be traceable to distant ancestors. Connections to countries away from your homeland may also provide a new perspective on your views of the world. Examples from the Anglo-Indian Project:




Discovering new information and ancestors can be exhilarating, but the preservation of that information can be of higher value. You are assembling a story of your life and the lives of those family members who went before you. Official records, photographs, anecdotal comments and nuggets of information, pieced together can provide a rich portrait of you and your family history. Examples from the Anglo-Indian Project:

Legacy P1000630

The preservation of information and the story you’ve assembled not only serve as a valuable resource for current family, but can be kept for future generations to read and add to. Those names you’ve ‘brought back to life’ and the information you’ve added, will serve as a valuable resource for future generations and continue the legacy of your family. Examples from the Anglo-Indian Project:

This is not intended as an exhaustive list or account. What key themes or items would you add?

9 thoughts on “The Importance of Family History

  1. An excellent post Dan and I think you covered most of the points. One thing that did come to mind when reading this post was around connection and knowing there is a lot underpinning our existence. Sometimes, especially in the present day, there can be tendency to feel isolated and the process of tracing family could help to overcome this. I would be interested to know if there have been any studies done linking Genealogy with improvements in mental health.

  2. Thanks, Dave. Interesting point on the link between genealogy and improved mental health – i’ve seen some pieces about this, but nothing convincing as yet. But, I suspect there will be cases where there is significant link – the search continues. There are some deeper questions (such as the link with improved mental health) that I haven’t addressed in this post, but i’ve got some ideas of how to address this and issues of ‘identity’ and ‘being [insert nationality]’ – i’m currently ironing out the creases and i’ll post something in the near future. Some interesting debates to be had! Dan

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