Exploring the Psycho-Social Benefits of Ancestry Research

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Ancestry research has long held the keys to many questions we ask ourselves so often. But there’s more to be taken away from ancestry research than simple knowledge of your ethnic background or family history.

Research has shown that engaging with your ancestors and direct lineage has a positive effect on our cognitive abilities and influences the way we see ourselves. The most important study here comes from Peter Fischer et. al. and was published in 2011 in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Confidence by association

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“When we think about [our ancestors], we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.”, the researchers say in their study. Their initial study involved 80 undergrads students who were told to either think about their fifteenth-century ancestors, their great-grandparents, or a recent shopping trip. The results were clear: The students that were just thinking about their ancestors were much more confident about their performance in future exams.

The researchers corroborated this finding with three further studies. All of them clearly showed one thing: the part of the test population that had just thought about their ancestors outperformed the control group across the board. Whether it be verbal or spatial tasks, the students with their family history in mind clearly did better, every single time.

Fischer et. al. admit that their research is still in the preliminary phases, but still, their findings confirm what many that have previously engaged in ancestry research already knew in their bones: Being aware of your past makes you more confident in your present. And it has a physical effect on your brain.

Physical Effects

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Such is seen for instance in Reminiscence Therapy for dementia patients. By sharing memories of their past, dementia or Alzheimer’s patients feel more peaceful, valued, and contend. At the same time, the positive feelings have a positive effect on the body resulting in lower stress, minimizing challenging behaviours, reduce agitation, and boost the patient’s overall mood.

These are some of the measurable, objective benefits of engaging with our past, whether it be by active research or simply revisiting our own personal history.

Even More Benefits

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But that’s not all, not only does thinking about our ancestors increase our cognitive abilities, even the act of researching itself is beneficial. Studies have shown that people engaged in the field of ancestry research are greatly concerned with caring about future generations thanks to the lessons picked up along the way.

Of course, this might be a case of correlation does not equal causation, but it is definitely interesting to consider. In general, the idea is that people engage in ancestry research care about leaving a legacy. They care about writing their own family’s history, however ordinary it might be. And with that, they lay the foundation for future generations to more clearly understand their own lineage and history.

The same study also showed that the legacy these genealogists leave not only strengthens their own family’s legacy, but also the legacy of the community their family has been a part of. It shows that people are more likely to develop a “sense of place” and “generative concern” if they are actively engaging in their family’s history.

Next, genealogists often also grow more compassionate. Due to having a greater, deeper understanding of the past challenges ancestors faced, they tend to be more compassionate. This compassion then tends to translate in their own realities, helping them to be more empathetic and humble towards others.

Overall, genealogy research is an interesting and fun hobby for anyone to undertake. Whether you’re bored or trying to find your sense of identity or a sense of meaning, genealogy has the promise of bringing a multitude of psychosocial benefits.

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