Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Genealogy As Therapy

I'm sure we can all agree that the very moment we make a new discovery, a big discovery, in the course of our genealogical research is a happy and exciting moment. It's the event that gives us cause to do the "happy dance". It goes beyond "feels good" to somewhere in the neighborhood of euphoric. Some have even referred to it as a "high".

But what about all the other hours, days, months, and years we put in to our genealogical research? Is that time boring, soothing, exciting, numbing, frustrating, puzzling? What feelings does genealogy research evoke in you? I'm sure most of us have run the gamut of feelings at one time or another but what would you say is the most common feeling you get from doing research?

Have you ever turned to research to bring you up when you're feeling blue or calm you down when you're anxious or worried? Have you entered data in a genealogy software program to get your mind off pain or sorrow? Have you turned to the task of combing through a reel of microfilm in search of pertinent records when your life was in turmoil and you didn't know which direction to turn? Has genealogical research ever been therapeutic for you?

I find genealogical research and related organizational tasks to be very therapeutic. I can't tell you how many times I've turned to my genealogy when I was anxious and couldn't get my mind to relax. I find the focus required to comb through films, enter data, analyze documents, search databases, or review notes to be a soothing distraction when I need it to be. The same could be said for those days when my aging hormones are having a field day with my emotions and I'm feeling bluer than blue. It isn't exactly what I'd call a mood elevator but I can almost always count on it to be a mood modulator, helping me find the emotional middle ground.

There have been many times when my genealogy research has been a stress reducer for me. I wasn't into genealogy when my kids were really young but it was a great escape and de-stressor when my kids were teenagers. Anticipating an argument or dealing with the hurt and anger after one were times when I turned to my genealogy to help me cope. It was something steady, the routine of it comfortable and comforting. It was comfort food for my raw emotions... something solid to fill me up when I was emotionally spent.

My genealogy has also been invaluable to me in helping me put things in perspective. This was especially true in the days and weeks immediately after my mom died when I was going through a period of profound grief. I believe seeing the cycle of life and death in my genealogy records helped me to get a grip on the normalcy or universality of my experience... especially when looking back hundreds of years ago when babies died quite regularly, mothers died giving birth, and a bout of diarrhea could kill and often did.

And then there are those pesky sleepless nights... yeesh! I often turn on my computer and immerse myself in "genealogy stuff" when I have a case of insomnia. Sometimes it puts me back to sleep, sometimes I get a "second wind" and find myself even more wide awake, and sometimes it just fills the lonely, empty, hours of darkness. It's not always predictable but it is usually appreciated.

Genealogy is more than just something that relieves me from stress, worry, sadness, and insomnia. It also provides me with a great deal of satisfaction. There's satisfaction in knowing I've found my roots and in looking at the amazing amount of information I've been able to put together about people who lived long ago in a foreign land. And they're not just any people, they're my people. And the information I've learned about them is not just sweeping generalizations about life and times like you'd find in a history textbook but specific information about their homes, occupations, families, and faiths. I take pride in that... which is good for my self worth. I feel a real sense of competency when I step back and look at all that I've accomplished.

And lastly, genealogy is often just plain fun. In the same way a child plays "let's pretend" for the shear joy of doing so, so do I play with my genealogy for the pure pleasure of doing so. It's fun to let go of the real world and mentally escape to one of the many villages in Poland where my ancestors lived so long ago... or let my imagination wander as I picture my great grandparents walking the dark snow-covered streets of turn-of-the-century Detroit on Christmas Eve making their way to Pasterka (midnight Mass) at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church. It inspires my imagination, challenges me to discover who or what I might find in the next document, and helps me feel a connection with our oft times impersonal world.

I get a lot out of doing genealogical research, so, so, so much more than just adding names to a family tree. For me it  can be and often is therapeutic. What about you? How does genealogy touch your emotional life?