Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Famous Last Words: I Plan on Doing My Family History When I Retire!

In the United States and I am guessing elsewhere in the world, we have a culture of "retirement." The idea seems to be that after spending a lifetime of work, we are somehow entitled to some rest and relaxation in our old age. In Phoenix, Arizona, where I spent most of my life, retirement is a big business and the entire city is surrounded by "retirement communities." The idea is to play golf, shuffleboard or pickle ball and while away their time until they die in "luxury." Although, I do have a difficult time adjusting my concept of "luxury" to the extensive mobile home parks where most of the retirees are living. But no matter how you look at it, retirement is a big business in the United States. 

One interesting part of the retirement concept did include the fact that a rather small number of these retirees were actively engaged in genealogical research and as a result, over the years, I managed to make friends with a few of the "Winter Visitors" that came to Mesa every year. 

If you have been around me at all, you can probably guess that I am entirely and completely opposed to the idea of "retirement." As President Gordon B. Hickley is quoted as saying about President Ezra Taft Benson, "He came to know...that without hard work, nothing grows but weeds." Here is the entire quote.
That family life is but an extension of the family life into which Ezra Taft Benson was born and in which he was nurtured and grew. As has been noted, he was a farm boy, literally and truly, an overall-clad, sunburned boy who at a very early age came to know the law of the harvest: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). He came to know in those lean days that without hard work, nothing grows but weeds. There must be labor, incessant and constant, if there is to be a harvest. And so there was plowing in the fall and plowing in the spring—the sweaty work of walking in a furrow all day long behind a team of strong horses. In those days a hand plow was used, and it was necessary to hold constantly the handles that twisted and shook as the sharp plow point cut the earth and neatly rolled it over. After a day of that, a boy was exhausted and slept well. But morning came very soon.
As genealogists and family historians, we are living the law of the harvest. I agree with President Hinkley, that "there must be labor, incessant and constant if there is to be a harvest.

There are three very common excuses for failing to become involved in family history work as follows:
  • I don't have time right now and I will spend more time doing my family history when I retire.
  • All my family history has been done and I don't have anything to do.
  • I am simply not interested in doing my family history right now. 
It is my observation that retirement does not produce an interest in family history. Yes, a few of us do view retirement from our occupation or work as an opportunity to spend more time researching our family history, but most (nearly all) find out that family history has a lower priority than many (most) other activities. The reality is that unless you have an active interest and involvement in reading, research, computers, and history, you will probably not be spending much of your "retirement" time doing genealogical research. Doing genealogical research is too much like "work" for most people and they have the idea that they have done their "work" and now they are "retired."

In a sense by trying to get people who are retired to be involved in a highly intensive intellectual challenge such as genealogy is like swimming upstream against a river of cultural promptings that are telling people to slow down and enjoy life in their "golden years." One of the realities of those "retirement" years for most of those around me is that they are old and the pain and difficulty of simply living every day is a major disincentive to activity at the level required to do family history research. What I see when I go to the family history centers and libraries is a bunch of old people who, despite physical infirmities, are driven by the Spirit to do the incessant and constant labor of finding their families.

Maybe we need to find out who is actually doing family history and why they do it before we try to sell family history as a general or popular pursuit.


  1. My grandpa told me once that retirement didn't end up being what he hoped it would be. He had a few good years when he served on the school board, did some volunteer work, and served a mission with my grandma (they went for two six-month periods during the winter and were home during the summer), but they weren't able to finish serving their mission because his hearing worsened rapidly. Once he lost his hearing, many of the things he'd always hoped to do when he retired weren't really doable anymore. So I've learned that planning to do something when you're older and retired might mean it doesn't happen. If it's that important to you then start it now, even if it's just a little bit.

    1. Hmm, Hearing loss, maybe that is why I just got new hearing aids.

    2. Yeah, that's generally why people get them :). (Although even with hearing aids my grandpa is practically deaf.)

  2. James, I have read literally hundreds of your articles over the years and this one is one of my all time favorites. Everything you have shared here is so full of relevancy and wisdom. Thank you for your continuous desire to help us learn, in spite of the challenges of swimming upstream everyday!

    1. Thanks for those encouraging words.