Genealogy is a great and important experience – searching for one’s roots and family history. But are we in our quest to look for our origins making one big mistake – forgetting to record - in a structured fashion - the knowledge of the current set of generations? Taking for granted that it will somehow all be remembered? What will the genealogists of the future find when they come looking for us?

Building a bridge across the ocean – and the generations
In 1985, Dordi Glærum Skuggevik made a list of all the ones marked as emigrated to Amerika in the local history books – and then spent several months in the US trying to find out what happened to them all.

This was long before the internet and digitised records – and she did a tremendous job. Just gathering the photos - and keeping track of them all - would have been the last straw for many a camel’s back.

By writing her book ‘Emigration from Nordmøre (Norway)’, Dordi built a bridge across the big ocean - between the old records back home - and the lives of the new generations in their new homeland: a kind of reverse genealogy. And she did it at a point in time when many of the second and third generation emigrants were still alive. A lot of the information that she collected would most likely have been gone for all times had she not embarked on such a journey.

We are the first set of generations with so many possibilities
Today, the internet - and the enormous amount of available data - has given us a chance to go looking for our roots. A chance that no set of generations has ever had before – not for as long as there have been people on this earth. That is quite something to think about - it makes us all historical.

Genealogy – important on so many levels
In the wake of the possibilities of the internet – and television programs like ‘Who do you think you are’, – thousands and thousands have started looking for the many small pieces of what is to become our family puzzle. It is a fascinating and all-consuming job. And it is an important job.

In the olden times, the family lived together under one roof - and all the generations shared both house and table. This was a much more natural environment for passing on ancient knowledge from generation to generation. Little by little – story by story – the family saga and life's wisdom was picked up by the young.

In our modern society this ancient structure has almost disappeared. In many ways we could argue that we are also the first set of generations that has lost this ancient and natural connection. And we might wonder if it will come at a price.

Genealogy in reverse – our elderly’s knowledge is tomorrow's history?
The above truth begs a very important question: are we in our eagerness to find our roots forgetting to gather the knowledge that is right under our noses? Are we forgetting that our elderly’s knowledge is tomorrow's history?

Our parents and grandparents are a treasure trove of family history - and everyday history. They are an enormous repository of the stories that were told to them by their own elders – and stories about what they themselves have witnessed and learned during a long life. This is first-hand knowledge which can never be found in any dry old birth record.

What was aunt Betty’s favourite hobby, what was the sound of her laughter like, who were her friends, where did she live throughout her life, what were her jobs, was dancing her passion?

On the old farm how many cows did granny Olson have to milk, how many acres did old grandpa Olson have to plough, and who dug the well out in the field so that the animals could drink?

This is the kind of information that will not survive if we do not ask the questions – and if we do not write it down. And all of this can be written and shared with the world as it is not personal information – it is knowledge that will stand like a memorial to the ones who lived before us. It will paint a colourful picture of who they were.

Genealogy in reverse is collecting all the information that we can find among the living today – and pass it on to the future. Imagine what joy it would have given us if we ourselves were able to read stories coming directly from our great great grandparents mouths. About the lives and realities that were theirs. We would have been thrilled.

Combining our genealogy in reverse with compassion
Far too many of our elderly friends and loved ones spend far too much time on their own. Why not setting ourselves a task – trying to achieve two things in our quest for genealogy in reverse: one is to spend more time with our loved ones, listening to their stories and thus enriching both their lives and ours - and two, record the stories and the knowledge before it is too late. Before the voice is no more.

Let the genealogists of the future find information in abundance. If you are a genealogist of today then you know just too well what that would mean. Let this be a common challenge in the weeks and months to come.

As an example of pure history gold we would like to share the below saga-chapter with you, added by Linda Thompson. We for one would have loved to have met the man Robert MacIlvaine Long - and in awe we read this memorial made out of simple words.

Robert MacIlvaine Long

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