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How Older People Benefit From Knowing Their Genealogy

Updated on February 8, 2017
MsDora profile image

MsDora, former teacher and counselor, is fascinated by the study of healthy aging and loves to share the information she finds.

Photo by Venita Oberholster
Photo by Venita Oberholster | Source

Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family puts it this way:

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage—to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning."

This article presumes that the research produced or will produce information on at least three generations. The family members, although they have lived more than 60 years, realize that they made no contribution to their genealogy (another term for family history) and have graciously accepted the facts, likable or not.

What benefits do they get from the knowledge they have? How is their wellbeing affected? Probably, in more ways than they expect.

Tracing family heritage can help elderly people . . . gain the perspective that they are a part of a long line of relatives that leaves a legacy for future generations.

— Allison Merlino

(1) Psychologically

A retired scientist grew up with a couple whom he thought were his parents. The fake father was actually his mother's brother (his uncle). When in his twenties, his biological mother was introduced to him, she apologized for the deception and for the fact that she could never tell him who was his real father. In his sixties, he was still agonizing over the fact that his identity and family history were being withheld from him.

Consider how different the scenario is for older people who not only are accepted by their immediate family, but can also trace their identity backwards to previous generations. The psychological benefits of knowing their roots boosts their mental wellbeing in positive ways, giving them:

  • a sense of accomplishment if they did the research themselves;
  • the perspective that they belong to a family which leaves a legacy for future generations;
  • a sense of self worth and belonging to ancestors with whom they can participate to play their part in history;
  • acceptance of the concept of death and mortality.

"The psychological benefits of genealogy are significant and plentiful," writes Allison Merlino. Among them, she lists basic needs like acceptance and friendship; ego needs like achievement and status; and self-actualization.

Source

In order for doctors to determine what preventative screenings and tests you should take, they must be able to view your family health history.

— MemorialCare Health System

(2) Medically

According to the Center for Disease Control, only one-third of Americans have gathered their family health history, although 96% of them believe that it is important. Family history is only one of a combination of factors which contribute to chronic diseases; still, not knowing it guarantees guessing where facts could make a difference.

MemorialCare Health Systems advises older people to compile the history from three generations of biological relatives.

The risk of disease increases in older people. Family healthy history can offer clues as to the cause for certain health challenges. It can also be helpful in determining nutritional needs and the necessary adjustments in lifestyle behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption.

Obviously, older people who have paid attention to their family health history are better able to contribute to their own wellbeing, and better prepared to affect the wellbeing of their descendants.

Sample Family History Form

Fill out the form below with your biological (birth) parents’ information (living and deceased).

❑ Alcohol and/or drug abuse
❑ Allergies
❑ Asthma
❑ Cancer - if yes, what kind?
❑ Depression
❑ Diabetes
❑ Heart disease
❑ High blood pressure
❑ High cholesterol
❑ Mental Illness
❑ Stroke
Does he or she smoke? ❑Yes ❑No
Is he or she deceased? ❑Yes ❑No
If yes, at what age?
If yes, of what cause?

List any questions or concerns you may have about their medical history.

My family tree has many branches, both living and dead... but all equally important. I cherish the memories that make its roots run deep.

— Lynda I Fisher

(3) Socially

Carl Brashear was the first African American to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver. His navy experience is chronicled in the 2000 movie Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding Jr. playing the hero. Feeling privileged to meet one of Brashear's second generation relative in 2016, my attitude toward her was immediate love and admiration (based on my love and admiration for the sailor).

People of every age benefit from their ancestral family connection. Not only do they receive respect because of their family name, and applause because of what their family member accomplished, they are also presumed worthy of the same social status as their ancestors. However, by the time an individual has lived through 60+ years, there is no more presuming.They have either proved themselves worthy or unworthy. Those who are worthy receive continual praise for carrying the family name with honor.

Older individuals who love and respect their ancestors, and who live up to the family 's good reputation, often receive favors and preferential treatment just for belonging to a family with a honorable name.

Now that I am old and gray . . . Let me proclaim your power to this new generation.

— Psalm 71:18 (NLT)
Photo by Wendell Weithers
Photo by Wendell Weithers | Source

(4) Morally

The jury is still out on whether or not morality is genetic. There is an ongoing debate on Debate.org in which 38% of the participants think that it is. Regardless of the findings, there is an obvious trend of certain behaviors repeating itself in generations of the same family.

In the Genesis story, Abraham lied with intent to deceive and similar lies were repeated in his son, his grandson and his great-grandsons. In another Old Testament family, the ancestors of Jehonadab manifested obedience to his counsel and refused to drink wine (Jeremiah 35). In modern times, there is a story of a family whose members in several generations have adopted other people's children and raised them lovingly.

Older individuals have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to point out obvious tendencies in the bloodline toward positive and negative behaviors. This information is useful in determining the moral instructions and warnings to the next generation. The grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles also have the duty to relate the lessons their ancestors taught, and the moral principles that kept them focused.

For this reason, the lyrics in Steve Green's Find Us Faithful make an appropriate motto and prayer for older people who care about the moral wellbeing of younger generation:

Let us run the race not only for the prize,
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.

What aspect of your descendants' wellbeing do you want to affect the most?

See results

References

MemorialCare Health System, Importance of Understanding Your Family Medical History, Copyright 1999 - 2016, Memorial Health Services

Merlino, Allison: Genealogy Benefits, April 18, 2008

© 2017 Dora Isaac Weithers

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Wonderful analogy and reflection, and I totally agree. Quite frankly, I think I won the genealogy lotto....and I am so thankful, but at the same time, I am so aware of my status as a white man who needs to always be aware of the unfortunate in this world.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 5 months ago from Hollister, MO

      MsDora, what a neat article. Thank you for sharing. You wove in some very interesting stories. What fun! ;-)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      The statistics seem amazingly low in those who actually know their family's medical history through their grandparents level despite wanting to have that knowledge. Taking my mom and her sister, who is now almost 97, to the doctor, we were continually filling out forms that asked medical history about their parents, siblings and offspring.

      My mom, in her retirement, took a lot of interest in tracing the genealogical heritage of her parents. How I wish I had asked my grandmother so many more questions about her childhood and things about her own parents.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Bill. Enjoy your blessing. I know you'll be as kind as you can to others.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Dr Bill, happy to hear from you. I appreciate your input. It is a joy to have for older people enjoy what I write about them.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting stuff here. There is much I do not know and perhaps never will. But it is intriguing.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Peg, many people may not consider the importance of genealogy research. Now, I am a little keener than I was before, and I also have regrets about not asking questions when I had the chance. It would be great to have some information to pass on.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 months ago from The Caribbean

      Eric, what we cannot know, we just can't. At least we can compile what we know about us to pass on.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've presented some very interesting ideas in this article, MsDora. I've been aware that knowing the medical history of relatives can be important for our own health, but you've given me some ideas that I haven't thought of before. Thank you for sharing them.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Alicia, whenever I write on a topic, I also find new information. There's always something else to know. Happy to share what I find.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 months ago from USA

      My father traced his and my mother's families all the way back to the Jamestown settlement and to Ireland. His interest was sparked by wanting to know the cause of death back through the generations as far as he could ascertain. Suicide runs in my family and he wanted to trace its links.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 months ago from New Delhi, India

      What a wonderful hub and you have shared some very important and interesting information!

      I have always been interested in knowing about my ancestors . I have also made some family charts (amateur kind of course) , in order to paas it on to the next generation.

      I would love to check out the websites you mentioned here.

      I feel your hub reflects quite appropriately that Genealogy affects well being of elder people.

      Thanks for sharing this insightful and well presented hub!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Flourish, what an important find your father made, which benefited not only him, but also his ancestors going forward. Thanks for your valuable input.

    • MsDora profile image
      Author

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Chitrangada, like you, I also have an interest to know but sometimes I think I'd rather not. The research for this article convinced me that it is a good thing to do for my descendants, but especially for myself. Just one more thing to engage our minds after we leave the job market.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for writing about this important subject! It has become increasingly important in our family now that my husband's parents are deceased. His mother was an avid genealogist, and that tradition is being passed on to her children and grandchildren. She would tell stories of the people that she discovered in her research, and that sparked their interest. We have been able to put the majority of her discoveries on the Internet, where they can be shared by all.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Denise, your mother-in-law passed on a very important tradition. She has blessed the family way past her lifetime. Your story is very encouraging.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 4 months ago from Northern California, USA

      I enjoyed reading your article. And, thank you for the additional genealogy resource. My family spends a lot of time researching family history. In fact, one of my uncles travels and all over the world, visiting neighborhoods, asking about family members, doing his best to locate past and present people in the genealogy line. It is fascinating to learn where we came from and who we are related to. It does give us a sense of pride to know who we are.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks Marlene. Best to you and your family in your research. I bet your uncle is having a ball. The sooner we know, the more time to relish our family pride.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 4 months ago from Norfolk, England

      Genealogy is so interesting. I've been researching mine and have found out so much about my family. Reading your article has been very interesting and the links you provided are a good help too, thank you.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Cofeequeen, all the best in your genealogy research. So glad that you found the links mentioned in the article useful. Thanks for sharing.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 4 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I tried to trace my ancestry once but got bogged down with it. I do find it interesting, though. My mother died when I was four years old. I never really knew her but wonder often what part of me may be her - if that makes sense, Anyway, thanks again for another one of your informative hubs. I appreciate the work and research done here.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, it certainly makes sense to wonder about your mother and her influence on you. Obviously, God helped you make it through despite such loss. Hope you find some time, even later, to get the answers you need. Thanks for sharing.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 months ago

      Psalm 71:18 is my prayer as I age. If we can pass on to our children our life lessons they will benefit greatly. Your wisdom is valued!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Diana, we can never feel useless if we take Psalm 71:18 seriously. God's got our work cut out for us. Thanks for your input.

    • profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 4 months ago

      MsDora

      I've been researching my family history for about a year now, and it's revealed some interesting things!

      I think I understand now why I don't always see 'rules' as set in concrete, turns out neither did quite a few of my ancestors!

      It's also nice to know some of them lived long lives by even modern standards!

      Great hub

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Lawrence, it seems that you are enjoying your research. Thank you for sharing and good luck, going forward.

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