Focus on Family Historians: How Ancestor Research Affects Self-Understanding and Well-Being

A special issue of Genealogy (ISSN 2313-5778). This special issue belongs to the section "Family History".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 December 2021) | Viewed by 51045

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Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Faculty of Health, Arts and Design, Swinburne University of Technology, P.O. Box 218 Hawthorn, VIC 3122, Australia
Interests: life transitions; developmental psychology; family history

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Guest Editor
Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia
Interests: developmental psychology; gender; ageing

Special Issue Information

Dear colleague,

Tracing our genealogy and exploring the lives of our forebears through family history research has become an extraordinarily popular pastime in recent years. For many family historians, the quest to find out more about their ancestors goes well beyond idle curiosity and has become a passionate endeavour that stirs up intense emotions. Why? What are the individual and social drivers that motivate this quest and how do the outcomes of family history research contribute to—or disturb—personal well-being?

In this Special Issue of Genealogy, we are seeking articles that address the topics of:

  • Motives for family history research, e.g., self-understanding, generativity, spirituality, cognitive challenge, relationship strengthening, belongingness. The role of loss, grief and trauma in stimulating family history research;
  • Outcomes of family history research, including both positive contributions and threats to well-being, self-esteem and mental health. Examples include relationship strengthening or breakdown as a result of genealogical exploration, effects of exposing family secrets, psychological benefits of reminiscence, role of belongingness in well-being, notions of clan and kinship in forging identity;
  • Family history as therapy.

Articles can include:

  • Empirical research, both qualitative and quantitative;
  • Case material;
  • Literature reviews and discursive papers.

Researchers writing from the perspectives of psychology, psychiatry, social work, sociology, family studies, public health, history and other cognate disciplines are welcome to contribute, as are family historians with relevant stories to tell.

Prof. Dr. Susan M. Moore
Prof. Dr. Doreen Rosenthal
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Genealogy is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • motives of family historians
  • identity
  • psychological benefits of family history
  • therapeutic value
  • role of loss, grief and trauma
  • unexpected outcomes

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Editorial

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6 pages, 183 KiB  
Editorial
How Ancestor Research Affects Self-Understanding and Well-Being: Introduction to the Special Issue
by Susan M. Moore
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 20; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010020 - 1 Mar 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 4901
Abstract
The idea for this Special Issue of Genealogy came from my fascination not just with my own family history research, but through my involvement with groups of other passionate fellow family history researchers [...] Full article

Research

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12 pages, 278 KiB  
Article
From Human Remains to Powerful Objects: Ancestor Research from a Deep-Time Perspective
by Lindsey Büster
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010023 - 10 Mar 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2758
Abstract
Family history research has seen a surge in popularity in recent years; however, is this preoccupation with who we are and where we come from new? Archaeological evidence suggests that ancestors played crucial and ubiquitous roles in the identities and cosmologies of past [...] Read more.
Family history research has seen a surge in popularity in recent years; however, is this preoccupation with who we are and where we come from new? Archaeological evidence suggests that ancestors played crucial and ubiquitous roles in the identities and cosmologies of past societies. This paper will explore how, in the absence of genealogical websites and DNA testing, kinship structures and understandings of personhood beyond genealogy may have influenced concepts of ancestry. Case studies from later prehistoric Britain will demonstrate the ways in which monuments, objects and human remains themselves created bonds between the living and the dead, prompting us to reflect on genealogy as just one aspect of our identity in the present. Full article
16 pages, 317 KiB  
Article
The Effects of DNA Test Results on Biological and Family Identities
by Catherine Agnes Theunissen
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 17; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010017 - 17 Feb 2022
Cited by 8 | Viewed by 8521
Abstract
Direct-to-consumer DNA testing is increasingly affordable and accessible, and the potential implications from these tests are becoming more important. As additional people partake in DNA testing, larger population groups and information will cause further refinement of results and more extensive databases, resulting in [...] Read more.
Direct-to-consumer DNA testing is increasingly affordable and accessible, and the potential implications from these tests are becoming more important. As additional people partake in DNA testing, larger population groups and information will cause further refinement of results and more extensive databases, resulting in further potential opportunities to connect biological relatives and increased chances of testers potentially having their identities re-aligned, reinforced or solidified. The effects of DNA testing were explored through 16 semi-structured in-depth interviews conducted with participants who had received their DNA test results. These participants came from diverse groups, genders and ethnic backgrounds. A thematic analysis found that notions of family were frequently challenged with unexpected DNA test results causing shifts in personal and social identities, especially in their family and biological identities. Discrepancies in DNA test results prompted re-negotiation of these identities and affected their feelings of belonging to their perceived social groups. Participants’ identities were important to them in varying degrees, with some feeling stronger connections with specific identities, thus having significant re-alignment of these identities and feelings of belonging. This article discusses the thematic analysis’s findings and explores how identities of the participants, many of whom took the test for genealogical purposes, were affected by DNA test results. As more people undertake DNA testing, it is important to explore how it may change the notions of family in the future and how their biological and family identities are affected. Full article
21 pages, 359 KiB  
Article
How Key Psychological Theories Can Enrich Our Understanding of Our Ancestors and Help Improve Mental Health for Present and Future Generations: A Family Historian’s Perspective
by Helen Parker-Drabble
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010004 - 31 Dec 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 5639
Abstract
Family historians could increase their understanding of their ancestors and themselves and improve the mental health of living and future generations if they consider the psychological history of their forebears. Genealogists could then begin to recognize their family’s unique psychological inheritance that can [...] Read more.
Family historians could increase their understanding of their ancestors and themselves and improve the mental health of living and future generations if they consider the psychological history of their forebears. Genealogists could then begin to recognize their family’s unique psychological inheritance that can appear as a result of trauma, depression, or addiction. The author explores three generations of a Parker family branch from Huntingdon/Norfolk, England, to show family historians how such considerations can shed light on their family’s psychological legacy. The author does this by introducing us to her great-grandmother Ann grandfather Walter, and mother Doreen through the lens of attachment theory, and their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as poverty, bereavement, and addiction. Attachment matters because it affects not only how safe we feel, our ability to regulate our emotions and stress, our adaptability, resilience, and lifelong mental and physical health, but attachment style can also be passed on. In addition, this paper utilizes attachment theory to speculate on the likely attachment styles for the three generations of the Parker family and looks at the possible parenting behavior in the first two, the effect of alcoholism and the intergenerational impact of trauma and depression. Full article
7 pages, 199 KiB  
Article
Family Histories, Family Stories and Family Secrets: Late Discoveries of Being Adopted
by Gary Clapton
Genealogy 2021, 5(4), 105; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5040105 - 8 Dec 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3390
Abstract
This paper reviews what we know about the experiences of adopted people who discover in later-life that they are adopted. It begins by discussing how and why various facets of the adoption experience have come to the fore over the 20th and 21st [...] Read more.
This paper reviews what we know about the experiences of adopted people who discover in later-life that they are adopted. It begins by discussing how and why various facets of the adoption experience have come to the fore over the 20th and 21st century time span of contemporary adoption. The paper concludes with the fact that research on the late discovery of adoption is in its infancy. It also points to parallels that will exist for people who have been conceived by anonymous donation and raises additional areas for possible research. Full article
15 pages, 1429 KiB  
Article
(Re)discovering the Familial Past and Its Impact on Historical Consciousness
by Emma L. Shaw and Debra J. Donnelly
Genealogy 2021, 5(4), 102; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5040102 - 1 Dec 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 3348
Abstract
Family history has become a significant contributor to public and social histories exploring and (re)discovering the micro narratives of the past. Due to the growing democratisation of digital access to documents and the proliferation of family history media platforms, family history is now [...] Read more.
Family history has become a significant contributor to public and social histories exploring and (re)discovering the micro narratives of the past. Due to the growing democratisation of digital access to documents and the proliferation of family history media platforms, family history is now challenging traditional custodianship of the past. Family history research has moved beyond the realms of archives, libraries and community-based history societies to occupy an important space in the public domain. This paper reports on some of the findings of a recent study into the historical thinking and research practices of Australian family historians. Using a case study methodology, it examines the proposition that researching family history has major impacts on historical understanding and consciousness using the analytic frameworks of Jorn Rüsen’s Disciplinary Matrix and his Typology of Historical Consciousness. This research not only proposes these major impacts but argues that some family historians are shifting the historical landscape through the dissemination of their research for public consumption beyond traditional family history audiences. Full article
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11 pages, 250 KiB  
Article
Pilgrimage and Purpose: Ancestor Research as Sacred Practice in a Secular Age
by Rebecca Robinson
Genealogy 2021, 5(4), 90; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5040090 - 21 Oct 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3595
Abstract
This paper explores the ways in which ancestor research has become a replacement for religious community and practice in a post-religious world. We explore the parallels of popular present-day family history pursuits with traditional religious practices, noting the similarities in how the practices [...] Read more.
This paper explores the ways in which ancestor research has become a replacement for religious community and practice in a post-religious world. We explore the parallels of popular present-day family history pursuits with traditional religious practices, noting the similarities in how the practices are used to foster and strengthen feelings of identity, purpose, and belonging. We look at three particular customs that are common to those interested in ancestor research: the handing on of ‘sacred’ stories and objects with familial significance; acts of pilgrimage to ancestrally significant places; and engaging in ‘ritual’ gatherings, either with extended family or with others who share the interest of ancestor research. Full article
13 pages, 250 KiB  
Article
What Motivates Family Historians? A Pilot Scale to Measure Psychosocial Drivers of Research into Personal Ancestry
by Susan M. Moore and Doreen A. Rosenthal
Genealogy 2021, 5(3), 83; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5030083 - 15 Sep 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3571
Abstract
Participation in family history research may be a passing phase for some, but for others, it is a recreational pursuit exciting passionate intensity that goes beyond idle curiosity or short-term interest. In this paper, we explore some of the underlying motives that drive [...] Read more.
Participation in family history research may be a passing phase for some, but for others, it is a recreational pursuit exciting passionate intensity that goes beyond idle curiosity or short-term interest. In this paper, we explore some of the underlying motives that drive amateur genealogists, including the search for self-understanding, the desire to give something of value to others and the enjoyment of the many intellectual challenges that this hobby can provide. Using data accessed from an online survey of 775 Australian family historians, we developed a reliable and valid measure of the intensity of these psychosocial motives and used research participants’ qualitative data to suggest four further motives of interest for future research and measure development. Full article

Review

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11 pages, 1180 KiB  
Review
Ancestral Selfies and Historical Traumas: Who Do You Feel You Are?
by Pam Jarvis
Genealogy 2022, 6(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy6010001 - 24 Dec 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3724
Abstract
The potential for ‘historical trauma’ is deeply rooted within the evolved human mind, which constructs its reality through narrative in the shape of personally and culturally relevant stories. From its roots within psychoanalytic theory and practice and through its clear links with infant [...] Read more.
The potential for ‘historical trauma’ is deeply rooted within the evolved human mind, which constructs its reality through narrative in the shape of personally and culturally relevant stories. From its roots within psychoanalytic theory and practice and through its clear links with infant attachment, historical trauma can be theoretically linked with stress biology and the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences. Via this trajectory, it has the potential to become more commonly drawn upon in the field of public health, despite inconclusive attempts to link it to social epigenetics. It is proposed that when the historical trauma narrative invades family histories via negative experiences that have deeply impacted upon the lives of ancestors, descendants may be drawn to ‘traumatic reenactment’ through fantasy. This is explored with reference to my own recently published novel, examining its content through the perspective of the ‘psychic work’ it represents with respect to reconciling the self to the traumatic experiences of ancestors. Full article
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Other

10 pages, 217 KiB  
Concept Paper
Context: The Role of Place and Heritage in Genealogy
by Graeme Aplin
Genealogy 2021, 5(2), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5020058 - 16 Jun 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2527
Abstract
Genealogical research often focuses to varying degrees on the family tree and the ancestors that inhabit it, often ignoring, or at least downplaying, broader issues. There is, however, much scope for broadening the research by adding leaves and flowers to the fruit (the [...] Read more.
Genealogical research often focuses to varying degrees on the family tree and the ancestors that inhabit it, often ignoring, or at least downplaying, broader issues. There is, however, much scope for broadening the research by adding leaves and flowers to the fruit (the people) on the tree. The broader context to a person’s ancestry is often intriguing and enlightening, providing background information that places the people in their environments, perhaps explaining their actions and lifestyles in the process. Two aspects of this context are dealt with here. The first aspect relates to the place in which each person lives, in other words, to their geographical environment, both natural and social or human made. Secondly, their personal heritage is considered: this includes the most important items in their lives, perhaps inconsequential to others but with long-term meaning for them and quite possibly for their descendants. Other broader aspects of heritage may well be relevant, too. Full article
14 pages, 282 KiB  
Commentary
Family History and Searching for Hidden Trauma—A Personal Commentary
by Antonia Bifulco
Genealogy 2021, 5(2), 46; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5020046 - 7 May 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2821
Abstract
Background: Searching family history is now popular through increased internet access coinciding with a need for understanding identity. Prior unresolved war trauma can help explain impacts on subsequent generations and the need to search for family narrative, particularly in refugee families. This paper [...] Read more.
Background: Searching family history is now popular through increased internet access coinciding with a need for understanding identity. Prior unresolved war trauma can help explain impacts on subsequent generations and the need to search for family narrative, particularly in refugee families. This paper explores the search for trauma narratives through personal family history research, with links to community groups. Method: The author’s own Polish family history research provides examples of trauma and loss from World War II in Poland. This is supplemented by quotes from an existing interview study of second-generation Poles to amplify themes and indicate their wider community relevance. Full article
3 pages, 155 KiB  
Book Review
Book Review: The Psychology of Family History
by Pam Jarvis
Genealogy 2021, 5(2), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy5020039 - 15 Apr 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1978
Abstract
This article reviews The Psychology of Family History. It proposes this as an excellent introductory text for ancestry research, creating a lively discussion of its effects upon individuals and potentially upon communities. The review additionally proposes that the book will be equally [...] Read more.
This article reviews The Psychology of Family History. It proposes this as an excellent introductory text for ancestry research, creating a lively discussion of its effects upon individuals and potentially upon communities. The review additionally proposes that the book will be equally useful for academic and independent researchers in the relevant fields. Full article
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