Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Do Singles Do Genealogy?

Why do single people do genealogy research? I'd like to open this topic up for comments from blog readers.

On a personal basis, I never gave much thought to why I (a single person) got interested in genealogy. I always enjoyed history, the stories, the old photographs. And doing the research is a lot like being a detective - finding the clues, laying out the timeline, speculating on theories.

It wasn't that long ago when someone (a relative, of course) asked me why I wanted to put so much effort into genealogy when I didn't have any children. The question took me by surprise as it never occurred to me that genealogy was a hobby that only married people with children could pursue!

The question has been gnawing on me on and off for a few months and I'd really like to hear from other  people with no descendants who are passionate about their research. Are we doing this all for nothing because we have no one to pass it down to? What's going to happen to your research when you're "gone-gone"? Are you passing it on to another family member? Donating it to a local archive? Or like me - getting as much available on the internet as possible so that the information will be left behind.

Are we just oddballs or are there more of us descendantless people out there doing genealogy than I realize?

Please comment! I'd like to hear from both singles and marrieds with or without descendants.


  1. What a great question!

    I was 24 and married when I began researching his and my lines. Then I divorced and was single for several years, yet I continued working on my lines. I still had grandmothers and uncles around to ask questions of, and get photographs from so to dig around was great. I had a history degree, which is what launched me into genealogy in the first place, and putting my ancestors into historical context was important to me.

    Now that I am married with three kids, I want to pass down all the research I have done on my husband's side and mine. The boys are slightly interested, and mostly in our family's war heroes, but they are all under 10 years old at this point. I also love the detective work that goes along with the research. My oldest son wants to find his gg grandfather's ship log and so far it has eluded me for almost 14 years.

    Related to genealogy, my best friend has no children but is married. She and I are big scrapbookers. When she dies, she jokes (I think) that all her photos will be passed to me to finish putting in albums. I would take her albums but she does have nieces/nephew/great n/n who might want them. She scrapbooks her life more for the fun and relaxation of it rather than a pass it down purpose.

    Looking forward to reading other posts!

  2. What a bizarre question! I am married, with grown children who are not remotely interested in genealogy. I did genealogy before they were born, before I married, and after. I research because I love it. It has nothing to do with children. If I were interested in pleasing them I'd develop Facebook applications or cook more.

    As to the hereafter - I'm in the same boat. Getting as much as possible online and maybe knocking out a couple basic books on the lines I've done the most work on.

  3. Susan, no way are we oddballs! I do the majority of my research alone, but am very lucky that my husband also does his, and often helps me. However, we don't have children, so it is purely a labor of love when I help others. When I'm gone, I hope some of my research will live on, through RootsWeb and the blog articles. I feel if somebody else benefits from my work, it isn't wasted time or energy. Good question.

  4. I think my response to that person might have been something like - just because I don't have children doesn't erase the fact that I had ancestors.

    I hear people with children talk about how those children have no interest in their research so I don't think my work is any more likely to be thrown out by my nieces, nephews or siblings than theirs is to be tossed by their children. The issue of what will happen to genealogy records after the researcher is gone seems like a universal problem to me, not just one for childless researchers. It is an issue that I've given some thought to lately and even blogged about a couple of months ago although my concern wasn't lack of descendants, it was lack of paper (most of my stuff is computer files that won't be worth much if they sit around for years before someone develops an interest in them).

    I guess it had never occurred to me that someone would get into genealogy just to leave the information to their children who may or may not ever develop an interest in it - but maybe that's because I don't have children. It just seems like a lot of work and time and money to devote to something that you don't personally enjoy and care about for yourself.

    I wouldn't say that childless researchers have no one to pass their work down to. Granted I developed an interest in genealogy from reading information my grandmother wrote about her family but that didn't happen until 20 years after she died. What's to say that 20 years after I'm gone someone in the family won't become interested in the family history because Great Aunt Linda did such a fabulous job researching and recording the family history? :)

  5. Linda - there is a great article in the new issue of FGS Forum at which discusses estate planning and how to designate your research papers as part of the planning.

    Susan - great concept and great comments to your post. I don't have any children and have many friends who are CBC (childless by choice). Yet they express an interest in their own genealogy and others because a) they all have ancestors, b) they want to put their own family's history in context of world history and c) it is simply fun to trace one's roots.

  6. Susan - interesting question! I think I would have told the person who asked that hobbies are generally about the person doing them - can one only take up golf if one has children to inherit the golf clubs? ;-)

    I (being childless) just love history in a personal sense. I have always been fascinated by old pictures and loved to hear the stories attached to them. Genealogy just seemed the obvious choice!

    I do hope that one of my nieces or nephew develop an interest and I do many things to try and make that happen. I hope that when I am gone they will keep what I have done and pass it on to their children. But I also hope to have things on-line so that others can have access even if my sister's children are never interested.

    I was greatly benefited in my genealogy by a married, but childless, aunt who passed along some of the oldest pictures in my collection.

    I know this is rather rambling, but just wanted to jump on the comment band wagon.

  7. Oh, and PS...yes I am an oddball, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with genealogy :-)

  8. Susan,

    Here's a subject near and dear to my heart. When I began my research, I was just out of college and 22. I had dreams of marriage and children, but I wasn't researching my family history for those unborn children - I was researching purely for ME. I wanted to find out where my family came from, and perhaps in the process find out about me. Fast forward to the present. Life doesn't always turn out as planned. I'm 43 and single. I'm still dreaming of marriage, but the idea of children is OBE at this point. However, I'm still into my own genealogy. Part of it's the thrill of the search, the unraveling of mysteries. Now my brother has given me nieces and nephews, so they will have the research some day if they want it. But, even if there was no one to carry on the family name, my time searching has still been worth it - just for me.


  9. Though my family says they are interested in our family history, it's a passing interest at best. Nobody will take up where I have left off, I am sure of that.

    So why do I do this? I want to accurately research my ancestors, then publish that information online, for others who may be interested. Also, I do it as a tribute to those ancestors (so they're not forgotten) and to help give my life more purpose.