Thursday, January 26, 2012

Genealogy as Grief Therapy

Alex in June of 2011
 I think anyone who has spent any time researching their family history can relate to this....the process brings our ancestors back to life. In the case of researching those relatives who have passed in our own lifetime, it keeps them alive in a different and special way.

I'd been researching my family for some time before my son passed in August 2011. I had become familiar and comfortable working with death certificates, funeral home and cemetery records and even traipsing through cemeteries. For 5 years I've researched a local founding family in my community and I participate in the annual Stories and Stones storytelling program at our local cemetery; the very cemetery where I would bury my son. I feel at home there. I know the names of many of the "residents' and know the stories and history of those individuals who are neighbors to my child. As gut wrenching as it is to lose a child, the entire process has been softened by the knowledge, experience and very act of researching my ancestors.

My son would often come to the computer room and sit with me. He'd act very bored and put upon, but would usually ask what I was working on, or had I found anything interesting. He'd listen and look at photos and, I hope, would absorb the information. When he passed on, I took great comfort in knowing that he would be met by people he knew. I also gives me comfort to know that I'll meet up with him again someday and have the opportunity to meet and reconnect with all those who've gone on before me.

This hobby has brought me comfort and understanding during a very dark time.


  1. Dear Jennie - ah, the ghosts of Christmas past or whatever that phrase is. I too take comfort from the fact that lost and very dear relatives are now reunited with the great gang and that one day you and I will find the answers to all our questions. Our children are such precious gifts that it seems so cruel to have them taken from us before their time. Family history has taught me that many who have gone before me were not so lucky as I am today to have my children still. I wish that I could ease the pain that you must bear.

  2. Jennie, I am so sorry for your loss. I'm glad that you are able to find some comfort.

  3. Jennie,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was such a moving and thoughtful post. It is indeed a comfort to have those memories with your son. It touched me deeply just reading your words about him.

    This "family history thing" does give us a different perspective. While my father was losing his battle to terminal cancer spending time talking about the past was a balm to my soul. Those moments will be ones I treasure my entire life.

    Know that my thoughts and prayers will continue to be with you as you travel this most difficult road.

  4. Jennie,

    In the past year since my son Kirk's death, family history research has been one of the few things I truly delight in. As I was adding Kirk's death and obituary information into my software program, it indeed was a jolt and quite surreal....and also sad.

    I have been compiling family gravestone information for, so a local cemetery has provided me with that healing during this grieving time -- some days it's just a quick stop for a photo...other times it's a leisurely stroll through a beautiful area just looking at names.

    So glad you shared this...your son was indeed special.