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Genealogy and Seniors

Kimberly Fowler
By Kimberly FowlerJanuary 30, 2017

Retirees across America are leaving their families an unconventional legacy — knowledge of their family’s ancestral roots. In the age of the internet, ancestry and genealogy research has increased with additional access to online historical records. 

Older adults who are retired and have time on their hands are taking advantage, making “genealogy the second most popular hobby in the U.S., after gardening,” according to Time.

Genealogy and Seniors

The internet and wifi-service are now common amenities offered at most retirement and senior communities, and computer savvy retirees are making good use of the access.

It turns out that genealogy websites are now the second most-visited category of websites on the internet, and it’s not surprising that the field is so popular amongst seniors. The benefits of adding genealogy to your list of hobbies are pretty convincing:

  • Computer use and reading improve cognitive function
  • Particularly in the areas of the brain that are associated with:
    • Communication
    • Decision-making
    • Empathy
    • Spatial awareness
    • Vocabulary

Talking about generations past can also connect seniors with forgotten events, people and stories that happened early in the senior’s life. This article has some tips on how to help make a discussion about the past positive for a family member with dementia.

How Genealogy Can Unite Families

Family tree projects and genealogy research are common for students in middle school and high school, and are a great way to prompt conversations with older adults in the family.

Studies show that sharing family history helps younger generations form a sense of identity and self-awareness that builds confidence and creates an improved ability to cope with stress and trauma.

There are benefits for older adults who are building a family tree, or documenting personal histories too. Sharing this information creates a talking point with children and grandchildren and can expand the family support system when connections are made with distant or long-lost relatives.

Knowledge is Power

No matter which way you look at it, the old adage “knowledge is power” is true, especially when it comes to understanding your past.

For some families, research into their roots brings surprises like:

  1. Filling in gaps of knowledge or understanding about family members that have left emotional rips in a complicated family tapestry.
  2. Locating a new branch of a family tree.
  3. Meeting new family members.
  4. Obtaining important family medical history that was previously unknown.
  5. Uncovering a new status that facilitates applications for bursaries, scholarships or visas.

Ultimately, the quest for knowledge and truth is extremely rewarding, which is why genealogy is a fun and rewarding pastime. The truth is, genealogy couldn’t have become a billion-dollar industry if people didn’t enjoy it. In the U.S. and across the world, the pursuit of family history has ignited the creation of:

  • Books
  • For profit websites
  • Genetic testing
  • TV shows

Where to Begin Your Genealogy Research

If you’re interested in getting into genealogy, there are many resources to help you get started. Some are free and others come at a cost.

This article is a great guide for anyone interested in genealogy. It has links to a number of free online resources as well as great ideas about where to go for information.

A few of the top subscription sites for genealogy research include Ancestry, Find My Past and My Heritage. Review these and other sites before making a decision about which one to subscribe to. You can also find articles offering comparisons and reviews here and here.

If you’re on a budget you can still get into the hobby of genealogy. There are a number of free sites to explore, including the U.S. National Archives, U.S. Gen Web Project and the U.K. National Archives. This website has a list of the top 10 free genealogy sites and this website suggests free resources to help you build your family tree.

So, if you have the ambition and time to learn more about your ancestral roots you definitely should. Your research is an important legacy you can share with your family, one that they can continue to build on  one that millions of Americans are currently enjoying.

Have you looked into your genealogy with a senior family member or loved one? What has your experience been like? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler
Kimberly Fowler
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