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?

16 comments:

  1. Yes. I can completely identify with this.

    I'm home with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, so on days when Sesame Street is all the intellectual stimulation I'm going to get, it helps to work on some of my tougher genealogical challenges.

    I also find that it gives me perspective on days where I might be tempted to feel sorry for myself. When I'm sick of being cooped up inside with the kids, I remember the ancestors who lived in small homes in the Minnesota winter with no heat, no cable TV, no Amazon Prime to send them fresh toys via two-day delivery. It helps me remember how lucky I am.

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  2. Your words ring so true - they describe exactly how genealogy makes me feel and what it does for me. Sometimes I think God led me to genealogy just when I needed it to survive teenagers (my older daughter had just started high school). All of it is enjoyable. It lets me feel a sense of control, perspective, and peace that I never experience in the rest of my life.

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  3. Jasia, I loved reading your post, but realize I must be really odd. Although I love all the highs, the research, and connections to others doing the same thing, I almost always feel stressed doing it. So little time, so much to do. Library visits are the worst..., I worry, will I get it all done, can I get the microfilm reader, locate the book, get it all done before the door closes? Then to get home, and find I forgot a page number or title of a book. To spend about 30 hours a week on this hobby and to feel so stressed just doesn't seem fair! But, I love the hobby, whether I find something or not, and wouldn't change a thing.

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  4. I agree with so very much.....!!!! I find genealogy is a great diversion from stressful situations....and is OH so satisfying...like
    solving a mystery...except you keep finding new
    mysteries to solve!

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  5. Doing research, input, anything having to do with genie, I can focus, focus, focus, the rest of the world just slips away. Zone out all the bad stuff, go research.

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  6. My husband let me do family history while breathing through contractions because he knew it was helping me a lot to take my mind off the pain.

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  7. A very lovely post that certainly has followers commenting. I am up, it is 4:30 am, The house is still dark except for the glow of the pc monitor, the house is hush except for the hum of the hard drive, the refrigeratoe running, and the tap tap tapping of the keyboard. Occasionally a car sound, on another block, of an early worker. I am reading genealogy blogs. This part of my day is like reading long rambling heart felt letters of dear friends far away. The genealogy research part is like reading books. Sometimes mysteries, sometime family saga, sometimes history. All my favorite kinds of books. My husband enjoys me being in the same room as he, while I do my genealogy. Comforting, instead of two old people sitting while the woman knits, this old lady yarns tales. Great post to share.

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  8. Yes, it's a loooooong time between those genealogy happy dances. I used to rely on books to escape, now I'm more likely to do genealogy. Beats drinking.

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  9. Oh yeah, I understand precisely. Back when I was working "doing Genealogy" used to get me through the day! It was something to look forward to. But now, being "on the road" I'm really missing doing that research and working on the genealogy.

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  10. Goodness sakes, I am so glad that I am not the only one sitting alone at my computer in the middle of a sleepless nite, When I finally am ready to go back to bed I usually drift right off to sleep --- with my friends of the nite. Now I know I have real live friends of the nite.

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  11. I'm amazed at how many of you can do research at night. I have to resist the urge after about 8pm, because if I start, I'll end up staying up way past my bedtime...and I'll never get to sleep, because those ancestors will just dance around in my brain.

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  12. I just love all your comments! It's so nice to know that I'm not alone in my genealogy therapy. :-) I think genealogy is good for whatever ails you (and it's especially nice that it's not hard on the joints ;-) .

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  13. Oh bravo! This is exactly my experience with genealogy--in every single huge stressful event I have experienced in the last three years, I have turned to genealogy to soothe me. Sometimes I flip through my notebooks, sometimes I search the web. However I did it, it made me feel like a person again, amidst terrible upheaval.

    Awesome post :D
    ~Amy

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  14. I lost my Dad and my husband within 6 months of each other a couple of years ago, leaving my 88 year old Mom and me sharing a suddenly too quiet house. Before I retired my dad had entered everything I had on my genealogy, including everything on my husband's family, into the computer. For the last 10 years we worked together on it, thrilling to the finds the internet allowed us to make. Continuing this has most certainly been major grief therapy for me. Mom enjoys the tidbits I can share about her family and I feel a real bond with both my dad and my husband as I relink the pieces of the past. I'm not above asking them to chase down a gggrandfather on the other side to get some information and find a way to lead me to it either.

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  15. You have described so well the varied benefits of genealogy research. Yes, we can stress over a frustrating hidden ancestor, but the rewards of the search to so many interesting locales and to meet so many people with a personal connection make it all envigorating. I too find the quest is an escape that draws me in, a little like Alice in Wonderland.

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  16. Once again you have defined what my feelings are like when I turn to work on family history. The research relieves the anxious, frustrated, stressful times, calming me and yet gives me the energy to deal with life. When a new found document confirms something or leads to a resource of an unknown family member it encourages me to continue looking for that missing relative. It's wonderful therapy and provides Simply euphoric feelings!

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