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Exploring your family tree is a chance to learn more about your ancestors and where you come from. It can be one of the most fulfilling journeys you’ll ever take and provide you with a sense of purpose, belonging, and strengthened family relationships. In some cases, it can even reunite you with lost relatives.

And the best part is that exploring your family tree can be a fun and enjoyable experience too, that many people find to be an excellent hobby.

To help you get started, we’ve partnered with leading family history website, Findmypast. With billions of digitalised records and access to some of the world’s most important historical databases from prestigious institutions like The National Archives and British Library, Findmypast offers the chance to explore your family story in exciting detail.

So, to get you inspired, here are eight reasons to start exploring your family tree.

1. It can provide a sense of purpose and identity

Exploring your family tree and becoming familiar with your cultural background can help you learn more about exactly who you are and where you come from. Research shows that for many people, this can instill a deep sense of personal identity both at present, and throughout time.

Some people might discover interesting ways that their ancestors and wider family celebrated different events – for example, if they had a different faith or cultural background. In some cases, this can expand our horizons and strengthen our understanding of our own beliefs.

As a result, exploring your family’s past can be a great practise for self-exploration because it encourages you to think in more depth about what’s led you to where you are today and what’s important to you, which can help to shape your future. It can even give you a sense of grounding or pride in the characteristics of your ancestors.

As Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey put it, “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture, is like a tree without roots.”

2. It can help you feel more connected

As humans, we want to feel connected and as though we belong somewhere. This isn’t just a preference but a need, as science shows that when we’re feeling lonely or that we don’t belong, the same region of the brain lights up as when we’re hungry and in need of food. So finding belonging is something that we should all prioritise.

One way to do this is by exploring your family tree because it can help to piece together your unique history, which can provide a huge sense of belonging for many people. It’s the opportunity to not only connect on a deeper level with the people in our present, but to also learn about those in our past and future.

For example, Saul Phillips, a member of the Findmypast community said that seeing a photograph of his great-grandfather Abraham as a young man was an indescribable feeling – because he was instantly familiar.

Often, the more we discover about our past, the greater connection we feel to our ancestors and who they were. For this reason, people from estranged families or who have no living relatives can find exploring their family tree to be a particularly powerful experience.

In his popular TED talk, Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong, British journalist Johann Hari explained that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety – but connection. In light of this, it’s possible that connecting with members of our family, past and present, can fill an innate need within us.

3. It can be a great hobby

Exploring your family tree isn’t only self-explorative and education – it can be fun too.

Using Findmypast’s resources, you can explore everything from how rare your surname is to whether or not you’re related to royalty. You may be able to gather lots of fun and interesting facts about yourself. For example, Findmypast estimates that there are over four million descendants of King Edward III alive today!

Genealogist Jen Baldwin shared with Findmypast how a simple search for an ancestor led to one of her favourite family discoveries. While searching parish records, census entries, and newspapers for information on her fourth great-grandfather, Jen discovered other intriguing tales of crime and mystery going on at the time too.

Tracing your family tree isn’t just a quick pursuit either, but one that requires time and patience, so it makes a good long-term hobby that you can dedicate as much, or as little, time to as you wish.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in family trees but don’t necessarily wish to explore your own, Findmypast has plenty of other resources to stir your curiosity.

For example, the discoveries section of their website contains fascinating information – including the family history of famous figures and celebrities like Joe Biden, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Colin Firth.

It can be a great hobby

4. It can build resilience and compassion

When exploring the history of our ancestors, it’s not uncommon to learn about some of the challenges they faced. Research has shown that this learning process can actually have a positive impact on us and our emotional health.

The first reason for this is that understanding the context around other people’s mistakes and flaws can inspire love and compassion. This compassion can easily filter into the relationships we have with people around us.

The second is that observing patterns of overcoming failure and surviving difficult times in other people’s lives can inspire us to build resilience against whatever challenges we’re facing in our own lives.

For example, this study found when children knew more about their family history, they had a stronger sense of control over their lives, higher self-esteem, and greater belief in their family functioning.

5. It opens the possibility of uncovering or reuniting with lost relatives

If you’ve ever watched ITV’s Long Lost Family, you’ll know that exploring family trees can lead some people to discover or reconnect with family members.

For example, Cheri Hudson Passey, who shared her experience with Findmypast, discovered a half-brother that she and her family knew nothing about after starting a simple search for her great-grandparent’s marriage record.

The video below also shows the emotional story of Adrian and Sharon, who after an extensive family history search, were reunited with their long-lost birth mother for the first time on Long Lost Family.

Findmypast’s useful guide on how to find long-lost family will take you through all of the important steps you can take to uncover unknown or lost relatives, if you’d like to get an idea of how to get started. You’ll find information on everything from ancestry DNA tests and searching records, to advice on how to make contact.

It opens the possibility of uncovering or reuniting with lost relatives

6. It can provide insight into your health and genetics

People from the same family have similar genetic backgrounds, and often similar lifestyles and environments too. Looking at these factors together can often give us clues about which health conditions – for example, high blood pressure or heart disease – may run in the family so we can find out whether we have an increased risk of developing it too.

Generally speaking, a complete family history health record includes information spanning three generations – including parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, grandparents, and cousins. Exploring your family tree is an effective way to collect this information.

Many people find that when armed with this information, it empowers them to take steps towards looking after their own health – whether by making simple lifestyle changes or seeking advice from a doctor.

Note: While family health history provides insight into your risk of developing certain health conditions, having relatives with a condition doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop it too. Equally, a person with no family history of a condition can still be at risk of developing it.

7. It can encourage us to record our own experiences for future generations

Enjoying the personal benefits of exploring your family tree can also encourage us to consider the role we play in recording our own history for future generations to access.

Remember, you play a role in what your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and so on are able to uncover about their ancestors. So beyond recording basic information, you might also like to consider what other information you want to leave behind. There’s room for plenty of personal touches here too; for example, perhaps you have a special recipe, piece of music, or personal anecdote that you’d like to be remembered.

This practise of recording your own history isn’t just a nice thing to do but has also been identified by experts in the field as something really important.

Dr. Amy Harris defined the intentional process of knowing, recording, and preserving your family history for future generations that you may never know as ‘genealogical consciousness’ – “an ethic, a moral way of behaving based on seeing oneself and one’s actions as inextricably linked with the past, present, and future people’s lives and hopes.”

According to Dr. Harris, genealogical consciousness brings countless benefits to individuals, families, and entire communities because it can provide people with a powerful antidote against tough life experiences and security in who we are.

You can listen to Dr. Harris speaking about genealogical consciousness in the video below.

8. It can spark positive changes in our own lives

As well as thinking about how we record our experiences for future generations, exploring family trees can also encourage and inspire us to think about changes we want to make in our own lives.

For example, when your future relatives delve into their family history, what do you want your legacy to be? What are you passionate about? And which of the legacies left behind by your ancestors are you most inspired by?

Asking yourself these types of questions can really help you get to the bottom of what you want to achieve in life and leave behind.

It can spark positive changes in our own lives

Final thoughts…

Exploring your family tree is a unique and exciting experience that can bring a number of benefits. It can lead to self-growth and help us to feel connected and secure – and for those who may discover lost relatives during the process, it can be transformative too.

If you’d like to start exploring your family tree, you can head over to Findmypast’s website, where you’ll find all the resources you need.

Or, for further reading, head over to the history section of our website.