Can I confess something to you?
I’m not all that curious about my ancestors.
To be clear, I am interested in the past. I’ve read more than my share of popular history books and I am fascinated to no end by exploring different perspectives on the same event, historical figure or time period. It’s just that actually tracking down where my ancestors lived and what likely minor parts they played doesn’t capture my imagination.
Or it could be that I’m running up against my own misconceptions about genealogy.
“For a long time we thought genealogy was the hobby of elderly gentlemen who were trying to prove their heraldry,” State Library of North Carolina Genealogical Research Librarian Kay Tillotson told me during our Carolina Conversations interview for this issue (see page 38). “A recent article from the University of California states that the average age of a genealogist has gone down significantly. They’re about 40 years old.”
My own conception of genealogy revolves around my maternal grandfather, who filled the stereotypical role Tillotson describes. Yes, my family has been in North Carolina since Colonial days, but I didn’t identify with any of the stories Papa unearthed: I wasn’t proud that my ancestors fought Native Americans or marched for the Confederacy. None of that resonated. Hell, it was embarrassing.
I’m starting to at least understand genealogy’s appeal, though. My colleague Ashley Eder, for one, draws genuine satisfaction and enjoyment from her own genealogical research. Someday she will pass her work on to her weeks-old son, who will write his own chapter (see page 24). The way she approaches it, genealogy is more than just a meandering stream of begats. It’s a vibrant, inclusive process. And Tillotson, too, helped shape my burgeoning understanding of its appeal. During our interview, she spoke with incredible passion about the habit-forming detective work of discovering your own ancestry.
So while I’m no more curious about my ancestors than I was before, I do want my two children to know my stories. In fact, that’s one reason I’m a professional writer. Joke’s on me, then, as I’m creating documents right now that they and their descendants may someday use in discovering exactly who their ancestors were. That’s a surprisingly comforting thought.
Thank you for picking up OutreachNC, and I’ll see you in October.
– Corbie Hill