I have to admit: I am not one bit interested in my family's roots.
I know a little about them, but I don't care about the details. We were a family of German peasants who finally made their way to America, so our history is that of millions of immigrants to the US. Beyond that, what is there to say? I knew my mother's father and mother; my dad's parents died when I was a small child. Beyond that generation, who knows? And as far as I'm concerned, who cares?
I just seem to be missing the gene, or whatever, that makes a person want to know all about family history and maybe hold on to the manifestations of that history.
Recently I've been watching the series Hoarders, where the impetus for hoarding often seems to be triggered by the death of a parent (most often) or other family member. While compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder--one that's very difficult to treat--I think a lot of us have an urge to hold onto things from our past, perhaps our childhood, perhaps just happy times, perhaps mementoes of those we loved.
Not long ago Jim's brothers came to our house so we could all sort through their mother's things. She passed away in 2010, so it was high time. But with one brother living out of state, it wasn't all that easy to coordinate.
Anyway, I had an emotional connection to only a couple of things. Maybe it was otherwise for James--she was my mother-in-law but his mother. I can't speak for him, but I know some objects brought back memories and probably strong emotional reaction for him (even if he didn't show it).
I wanted Mrs. D's Christmas angels, little ceramic angels (five out of the original set of six), a couple of them with broken wings, some missing the clappers that had made them miniature bells to hang on the Christmas tree. She had told me the story several times of passing a shop window, seeing them, and wanting to have them--quite a foreign impulse for her, so something in those little red-and-white angels spoke to her. Those angels were the only things of hers that I wanted. I passed up the dishes and other, possibly valuable, objects. They held no meaning or sentiment for me. No boxes of newspaper-cocooned glassware or cartons of videotapes or CDs. Apparently James felt the same, as he didn't speak up for much, if anything.
Of my family, I basically have a couple of letters and some photographs. Some of my grandpa's things got sold or disappeared that I might have liked, but I didn't obsess over it. Jim and his brother saved my grandpa's tractor (although it needs renovating). I have a few little cheap dishes that my grandma had that I remember seeing at meals at her house. Nothing valuable. A couple of depression-glass pieces that were my mom's. A couple of things we had given to the person who died, which then reverted to us by common agreement.
Mostly, the memories I have are not attached to Things. Yes, photos maybe, but usually the photos I feel emotional about are from times I barely remember or wasn't even there for, like the photo taken not long before my parents' marriage that tells me a lot about their relationship. Or of my late sister Linn and me when we were little, on the back of which Linn wrote--a few years ago--"together forever." Photos that aren't even so much about a particular memory, but that speak to the reality of a relationship that lasted beyond the moment of the photo.
Don't get me wrong: I like photos, and there are a very few things that are significant to me. But I am not so big on hanging on to things. Did I keep a few baby clothes/blankets/whatever? Sure. Did I keep some of my kids' drawings and school work? Yep, I did. Do I have a bunch of photos that need organizing? Yes, I do. And I do understand that things have a symbolic value. I've felt it myself.
I just don't keep everything. It's not as simple as "what's past is past." No, not at all. But you're not going to bring it back or even keep it alive just by collecting things. Same is true of one's genealogy: you won't actually understand your own immediate family better by learning about great-great-uncle Otto. I don't want to dismiss the past, because I believe that history is important to our understanding of the world. And if you're fascinated with your family's past, I think that's great, because you will get something out of it that I won't, and that's fine.
I'm just saying that the interest in genealogy is a bit of mystery to me. I can understand better the impulse to try to save the physical markers of your actual life, but even that is a little beyond the reach of my comprehension.
I do know that for some people, both genealogy and the things they've inherited from their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents are important. Those things are an important reminder of the love they felt from a particular person, love and empathy and a bond. Even I have felt a little bit of that with that rare item. And for a lot of people, I think there's something about continuity that's represented by the existence of things handed down from generation to generation. But mostly, I don't put much stock into physical reminders of the past.
In my case, I think I'm mostly better off living in the present. Some reminders of those we've lost is understandable; some reminders of friends, family, or youth we've lost, also understandable. But--and this doesn't happen to most people, I realize--I wouldn't want to live very long in that strange place where the past becomes more important to a person than the present.