When genealogy is heartbreaking...

There's a lot of fun and excitement that comes with tracing your family tree - discovering new ancestors, new cousins, new facts, new vital records...it can get the adrenaline pumping, for sure!

But it's not always like that. Sometimes researching your family history can be heartbreaking. I think, for example, of confirming my great-great aunt's death in the General Slocum steamboat disaster...and then to compound the tragedy of it all, discovering that she had a one year old son who died with her. I have a one year old son, so maybe that's why it particularly hit home for me, but I cried for a day after finding that out. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

I think about all the people researching their African-American lineage who almost without fail will reach that unbreakable Civil War brick wall, because their ancestors were slaves and no vital records were kept of them - if they were named at all, it can probably be found in transfer of property records. This is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

Recently, I was researching Eastern European Jewish genealogy for a client. As you can imagine, this can be another difficult task, as Eastern European and Russian Jews have their own brick wall, usually somewhere in the early to mid-2oth century, because those records were destroyed, whole villages were destroyed, and millions of Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. This particular client knew he had family who had died in concentration camps, and I've worked with clients before where it was understood without explicitly coming up that they had lost family in the Holocaust, but this was the first time I worked to document some of those relatives who had been lost. Sisters, brothers, parents, in-laws - people whose birth records I had just discovered, whose marriage records I had just seen, snapshots of happy days, joyous moments in their lives, quickly followed by confirmation that yes, this one was sent to Auschwitz where she was killed, this one was sent to Russia where he was killed...this is when genealogy is heartbreaking.

It's heartbreaking because genealogy is not just pieces of paper with names and dates - those pieces of paper represent real people, like ourselves, who lived and laughed and loved. Tracing our family trees can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, because life can be exciting and it can be heartbreaking, and that's what makes genealogy something so special and something I love.