Monday, October 15, 2007

Genealogy and the Environment

Genealogy and the environment. What do the two have to do with each other? Have you ever thought about how your ancestors have impacted the environment? What sorts of jobs did they have? What sorts of hobbies did they have? What lifestyle did they lead? Did they contribute to global warming? Deplete natural resources? Invent a " green" gizmo that is environmentally friendly? Live in an environmentally friendly home?

When I first heard about Blog Action Day with its theme of "the environment" I immediately began thinking about how I could write an article for my blog without going off topic. Genealogy and the environment seemed like a bit of a stretch for a blog topic at first. But after thinking about it for awhile I came up with all sorts of angles related to these two subjects. Without much effort at all I could write an entire series on this topic (OK, enough with the groaning... I don't write that many series ;-) but I won't. At least not right now. I would like to take a look at how some of our ancestors' occupations and lifestyles have impacted the environment though. Consider these ideas food for thought.

First let's take a look at occupations. What sorts of occupations did your ancestors hold? Did they work in occupations that have depleted resources? Some occupations that come to mind are mining, forestry, and the petroleum industry. Do you think great grandpa a who worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania gave any thought to the impact his daily toll took on the environment? What about great Uncle Joe who worked on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico? Do you think he worried that one day his job would cease to exist if we consume all the petroleum in the known oil fields of the world? Do you have ancestors who were loggers? Do you think they ever felt even a little sad when they had to fell a majestic northern pine for the paper mills so that we could have newspapers?

Who has ancestors who have worked in steel mills or manufacturing plants? Do you think your ancestors thought about the fumes and waste products created in the manufacturing process that have contributed to polluting our environment? Raise your hand if any of your ancestors worked for the auto industry (my hand is up!). Do you think your ancestors ever felt guilty building vehicles that emit gases that have depleted our ozone layer?

On the flip side, have you looked to see which of your ancestors might have been eco friendly? Do you know if you had ancestors who worked for the national park service, or were members of the Sierra club? Do you know of any family members who participate in Arbor Day, Earth Day, or have bought Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (I couldn't resist having a little fun here ;-) ?

Which occupations are eco friendly? Do you have ancestors who were in the landscaping business, planting trees and shrubs? Do you have any ancestors who were farmers? How did their farming methods impact the environment? Do you have any ancestors who built or worked at mills powered by water wheels? Do you have ancestors who picked cotton to create natural fiber fabrics for the clothing we wear?

Aside from occupations, have you given any thought to the lifestyles your ancestors led and how that might have impacted the environment? Take my ancestors in Poland for instance. They were all farmers who lived off the land. The homes they lived in in the old days were very earth friendly. They were wood frame and brick huts with thatched roofs. No electricity or running water. They made their own candles to light their homes and drew water from a community well. No vinyl windows, no fiberglass insulation, no water heaters, washing machines, clothes dryers, or even refrigerators. At first glance their lifestyle seems pretty eco friendly. But they had very large families. They overpopulated beyond their land's ability to support them. They cut down many an acre of lush forests to build more and more homes and plant more fields of crops. Eventually they got to a point where they were starving. This was predominant throughout Poland and many areas of Europe. It was a primary reason many people immigrated to the U.S. during the Great Migration (1880 -1920). This had a direct impact on my life because if my grandparents hadn't immigrated to the U.S. they might not have met each other and I wouldn't be here. Or at the very least if they had met in Poland I might well be living there now.

Take a moment today to think about how your ancestors have made an impact on the environment. Your genealogy research will certainly reveal many ways this has happened. You might want to write a blog post about it or perhaps write a chapter about it in your family history. Feel free to leave a comment here if you like.

Blog Action Day. Bloggers unite for one day on one topic. The environment.