But today I was thinking: What if there is some other involuntary and invisible force driving me to continue on my quest for family history? Whether you believe in God or some other divine power in the universe, what if someone out there wants us to learn about certain ancestors because, for lack of a better term, they got a "bum rap" during the time in which they lived?
Let's face it - life can be difficult, even in our 21st century, first-world, technology-aided lives. I often imagine how much MORE difficult it was for our ancestors, and I'm not just talking about the lack of physical comforts that we enjoy today due to a wealthier society and advanced technology. How did they cope with the difficulties of life psychologically and emotionally? How did they face the seemingly be-all end-all judgments of a much more rigid and intolerant society? There were no therapists or medications to help people through their inner struggles. Just about the only person with whom you could speak confidentially about your deepest thoughts and fears was a priest or minister, who would either tell you to pray more or to stop feeling and acting that way because your emotions and actions were sinful. There are individuals in all of our family trees that probably didn't live the most noble or upright lives - but is it right for us to judge them and their actions without knowing their whole stories?
Maybe that person who took his/her own life had a terrible chemical imbalance that could have been remedied with today's therapy methods and medications? Maybe that person who ended up in jail would have had a more successful life if he hadn't been shunned his whole life for being illegitimate? How many war veterans became hopeless alcoholics because the flashbacks were very real and all-too-frequent? Maybe that man who hit his wife and children just had no other way to cope with anger or losses in life? Maybe that woman who resorted to theft or prostitution would have never done so if her husband had not died or abandoned her? Was that person emotionally dead inside because he or she had been orphaned or neglected as a child?
So maybe that's another of our jobs as family historians and genealogists - to try to understand our ancestors' imperfect lives by uncovering the circumstances into which they were thrown. Maybe then, we can objectively give our dead family members a "second chance." It won't necessarily make their actions in life 'ok', but maybe God sympathizes with these souls and maybe that's why He pushes some of us still living to not "give up" on those of our family members who struggled through life, perhaps both externally and internally. And, even though sorting through old documents can never give you a sense of a person's true thoughts and emotions, sometimes it can give us a sense of what they had to go through and put up with.