Do You Know Who You Are?

Can you really truly know who you are, if you don’t know where you came from?

It’s a simple enough question and one that I am sure that many family historians and probably many psychologists will have considered at some point. Even to the point of analysing why some people are so passionate and so driven to discover the past and where they came from. If you are reading this blog now, I can assume that you have some interest in tracing your family history and finding out where you came from, but what drives us, me and you, to continue the pursuit of researching our family’s history and discovering who we really are?

We all come to family history research from a variety of different backgrounds and no two stories are the same. Our individual backstories are as unique as we are. But what is it that burns inside all of us that makes us want to continue even when faced with the toughest of brick walls? Is it an obsession, or something much more than that? Are we looking for that one missing piece from our own unique puzzle? There are far more qualified people than me, who will be able to tell you about the psyche of the human mind, all I can tell you is what I know from my own experiences and what drives me to continue researching my family history, but have you stopped to think about what it is that drives you on? There might not be one definitive answer for you and you might be driven to research your family history for a variety of different reasons, but ultimately are you researching to find out more about who you are, rather than who your ancestors were? Are we trying to replace the ‘missing’ part of ourselves by learning more about our ancestors? I don’t have the answers to all of these questions, what I am trying to do is gain a deeper understanding of the logic of why we are so obsessed with discovering our family history. It’s only by stopping and reflecting on what motivates you and drives you to carry on researching your family history that can give a true insight into who you are and where you came from. The documents that we discover can only tell you part of the story, they give you pointers, but they do not tell the whole story.


DNA also tells you part of your story, it tells you your ethnicity which gives you a clear idea of where you came from, but it doesn’t tell you who you are and what makes you ‘you’. For that, we have to dig much deeper. Your character and what makes you ‘you’ comes partly from your ancestors, a part of every one of our ancestors lives on in us, but again that’s only one part of ‘you’. We learn from both what we inherit from our DNA (nature) and we also learn from our surroundings and what we see every day (nurture). It’s only by truly understanding both of these and how they come together, that we can get a more complete picture of who we are. One could argue that we are discovering who we are on a continual basis, from cradle to crave and it’s the greatest and most important journey of our lives.

In order to truly discover who we are and why we act the way we do, we have to know our own story. Our past doesn’t have to necessarily shape our future and things that have happened in our past don’t have to define who we become, but understanding these moments in our lives and making sense of the past, can help us to understand the way we act today. Understanding who we are is at the heart of everything we do and everything we feel, so tracing your families roots back through generations can help you connect with your family’s past, you can learn where they came from, who they were, what they did, the trials they overcame, the accomplishments they achieved, the dreams they had.

As we get older, we realise the importance of family, not just the people we grew up with or raised, but the broad extended family of great aunts, second cousins twice removed, great-grandparents and the like. Even though they might be long gone and in many cases people that you never met, they still have a lot to teach us about our family’s history, and more importantly, about ourselves. Researching your family history can bridge gaps across many generations, it can bring family members together around a shared interest and also inspire the next generation of storytellers. Learning about your common ancestors is a great way of opening up the doors of communication that might have been closed over the years and it has the potential reconnecting long-lost relatives with each other.


When asked “Why do you research your family tree” I always say that it is for a variety of reasons, but the reality is there is a straightforward and basic answer to that question, “because it gives me a sense of identity.” My ancestors might well be long gone, but they made me who I am today. Without them, I would not be here. They are part of me, part of my genetic makeup and their legacy lives on in me and future generations.

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” —Marcus Garvey

We do not choose the family we are born into, but understanding your family and its origins can help you to have a deeper and richer understanding of who you are today, where you came from and more importantly where you are going………

What drives you on and inspires you in your own research? I would love to hear from you about why you are driven to research your family history.


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19 thoughts on “Do You Know Who You Are?

  1. Insightful and emotional. We wouldn’t be here without our ancestors and yet too often we don’t know much about the generations that came before. Your post is a powerful reminder that understanding our ancestors can help us understand ourselves!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a lovely post – I’m fascinated with archival records and social history – to hold a letter written hundreds of years ago is just beyond belief for me … that’s why I’m so thrilled to visit museums, archives etc. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think Family History makes me more emotional than anything I’ve eve done in life, a deep sense of pride and gratitude from where I belong.

    Liked by 1 person

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