Why am I a genealogist?

Jack Finney’s time-travel novel, Time and Again, explains it best:

Because I’ve always felt a wonder at old photographs not easy to explain.  Maybe I don’t need to explain; maybe you’ll recognize what I mean. I mean the sense of wonder, staring at the strange clothes and vanished backgrounds, at knowing that what you’re seeing was once real. That light really did reflect into a lens from these lost faces and objects. That these people were really there once, smiling into a camera. You could have walked into the scene then, touched those people, and spoken to them. You could actually have gone into that strange outmoded old building and seen what now you never can – what was just inside the door.

Because the good ones, the really clear sharp photographs, are so real; insert a view, slide it into focus, and the old scene leaps out at you, astonishingly three-dimensional. And then, for me, the awe becomes intense. Because now you really see the arrested moment, so actual it seems that if you watch intently, the life caught here must continue. That the raised horse’s hoof so startlingly distinct in the foreground must move down to the solidness of the pavement below it again; those carriage wheels revolve, the girls walk closer, the man moves on out of the scene. The feeling that the tantalizing reality of the vanished moment might somehow be seized – that if you watch long enough you might detect that first nearly imperceptible movement.

Why am I a genealogist? Because I’d like to think one or more of my grandparents are in this 1910 Chicago street scene. But even if they are not, I’m still back there with that sense of wonder about that arrested moment. And that’s my answer whenever someone asks why I am a genealogist.