Genealogy: ‘an exercise in self-congratulation’?

There’s a provocative article by Zoe Williams in today’s Guardian on genealogy, prompted by the publication online of the 1911 census. In it, she argues:

Say what you like about historical context, understanding the past by particularising and personalising it, but it’s still all about you. You spend your day being you, and your leisure time researching what makes you so essentially you-like.

Could one also make the case for researching and documenting the history of a particular community? Well, possibly, but Williams fails to consider both the importance of conducting this kind of research work, either individually or collectively for people who for whatever reason feel they have been denied a sense of a past. Being able to construct a coherent life story narrative can also be very valuable for mental well-being. As the comments on comment board suggest, perhaps such a dismissive attitude towards family history research is also a luxury that not all can afford…

Mary

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