Why do some people love genealogy while others are uninterested? I’ve always been slightly interested, but never enough to do much research until last year. I got a DNA test kit  for Christmas and had it processed a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been digging into my family’s roots. Some family members who I thought might be interested, also, seem totally uninterested. Is genealogy a waste of time? Is it meaningless?

To give some backstory, many years ago, my American father and his older sister were hooked on genealogy and worked together on their family tree. They traced their family back as far as the 1550’s.

My mother, an ethnic German who came from the former Sudetenland and Germany, provided some history for her family tree, but only back a couple generations. Much of her family’s history/documentation was lost during the war. She was a young child during the war, so her memories were vague on some of the details. Years later, after her passing, one of her brothers obtained some old WWII-era Identity Cards that his grandparents had carried. He made copies for me and for one of his sisters. From those, I was able to fill in some missing information from that side of my family’s tree.

I understand why some people have an interest in genealogy. As I worked on the first book in my Tangled Roots historical mystery series, I got out those old records and photos and dug deeper around my family tree, in a similar way to what my protagonist does in the story. That’s how I got the idea to make the story about someone’s search for his ancestry. My historical research, and the story I wrote, helped me better understand what my German relatives may have endured.

I’ll backtrack a bit more here. Back in 2016, my mother’s sister wanted me to write their story—the story of her and her siblings living in the Sudetenland during the war and their traumatic expulsion from their homeland as the Germans were losing the war. She wanted people to know what happened to ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland but she didn’t know how to write her own memoir. When we began talking about a book, she was in her eighties and couldn’t remember enough details from her past. She and I discussed how I might proceed with the minimal details we had available. We finally agreed I should write a fictional book about a very similar family and add in my own research and creativity. I didn’t get started on the book right away because my husband and I were in the process of moving to Arizona.

Days after we moved, I received news that my aunt had passed away. Though saddened, I went ahead and wrote the book, titled Breadcrumbs and Bombs, as a kind of tribute. The next book was Bloodlines and Barbed Wire. The series, Tangled Roots, is about a young Californian, Lucas Landry, whose father passed away suddenly, leaving his house to Lucas. As Lucas went through the house to decide what to keep and what sell, he discovered a secret attic filled with old WWII diaries written by two German girls. That piqued his curiosity, since he didn’t know anything about his father’s past or ancestry.

After working on four books in the series, I’ve become much more interested in genealogy. Maybe it’s addictive. Even my daughter is now interested. After I got my DNA test results, I created a family tree, using much of my father’s research. He had traced his family’s ancestry back to 1550 on his mother’s side and the 1800’s on his father’s side. After that, I started getting more hints about our family’s roots and added many more ancestors. I now have traced back to the 1500’s on his father’s side and the 1400’s on his mother’s side. I have close to 50,000 DNA matches, too. And that’s only the matches to people who have used the same DNA testing services.

But what does any of this mean? I read an article online that says if you go back far enough in history, almost everyone is related. If that’s true, is it a waste of time to seek your family’s roots? What is the purpose? Are we searching for truths about where we came from?

As I think about my reasons, I have two main thoughts. First, genealogy is a mystery, and I love mysteries. I love to dig and research and love those ‘I found it’ kinds of moments. Secondly, my father wanted, more than anything, to be remembered when he was gone. He wrote this in his autobiography—

‘For myself, I wanted a job that allowed me to retire at an early age with enough income to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about how I was raised, because the way I was raised made me what I am today. And, I hope that anyone reading this autobiography will not think that I am bragging about anything that I did. I just told my story the way I remember it. I also hope that my children and grandchildren will read this and remember me after I am gone.’

My German aunt that I mentioned earlier said something similar—that she wanted people to know what it was like for German mothers and their children living in the Sudetenland at the end of WWII.

Could it be that our ancestors would want to be remembered, too? Maybe they weren’t rich or famous or kings or heroes, but simple, average people. But their lives meant something. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.

As I learn the names and birth places, etc. for ancestors, my creative mind begins to wonder about them and what their lives were like. Sometimes, I find little tidbits of stories that help to conjure up details. Maybe doing all this genealogy research is waste of time, but it could also be preserving just a little bit more history for our own children and grandchildren.