I recently came across this meme and knew I needed to share it. In just a few words, this captures the essence as to why we research our ancestors. They aren't just names on a page--they existed, they lived out their lives, they suffered through pain and hardship, and they left us a legacy of the meaning of what it means to be a family.
In our busy lives of today, we don't always see beyond the present. It takes time to take care of ourselves and our families, and there are many daily duties that must be attended to. How easy it is to forget about those who made our lives possible, yet we are tied to our ancestors in many little ways, such as our mannerisms, habits, appearance, and attitudes. We naively think that we are an individual, unlike anyone else who has ever lived before, which is true to a certain extent; however, in reality, the reverse is probably more accurate. We are shaped and molded by those who lived before us, and if we are living up to our potential, we are taking the best of the past to carry on into the future through our children. Our uniqueness stems from our ability to assimilate what we've learned and make it our own.
I was privileged to grow up with stories about my ancestors which made them living people to me. They came alive through those old pictures (in some cases, daguerreotypes), and they have remained precious to me throughout my life. My father used to tease me that he could "see ancestors all over my face," and I would always react in the expected way--"No, you can't!" Back then, I didn't understand what he meant; I thought they were bugs of some sort! Now when I look at the old pictures, I do see those features that have passed down through the generations. I can only guess as to the habits and traits I have inherited, but I hope that I am using the ones that bring honor to them as well as myself.
This is the true gift of learning about and researching your family history--to learn about yourself. Remember the days of people needing time to "find" themselves by going off to isolated places and meditate? I don't know how successful they were, but had they taken that time to learn about their family forebears, they probably would have found the answers they were seeking.