Readers’ Forum: Shining your light through genealogy


Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest artists the world has ever seen, never lived to witness his own impact. During his life, he only sold one piece of artwork because he didn’t believe he was good enough. And now the world knows his name. Why? Because his sister-in-law decided to share his story. A story that not only changed the art world, but the lives of individuals. Van Gogh has inspired millions to chase their dreams.

How many of us, as college students, have believed that we have very little to contribute in today’s world? Between navigating relationships, choosing a career path, and forming life plans, I too have found myself in the same mindset as Van Gogh. I see little hope in how I, a single person in a world of 8 billion, can even make a dent in the world. But what would the world look like if Van Gogh’s story was never told? What would the world look like if your story was never told?

According to a recent study done by BYU, doing family history work promotes a healthy development of self-identity. This is rooted in the fact that family identities influence connection which is a prominent element of fostering positive identity growth and well being. As research continues to grow in the genealogical world, concerns are rising whether genealogy leaves a positive or negative impact. Many people are arguing that genealogy will damage identity development because of the risk of running into unwanted or hurtful stories. This is a very valid concern. Not every family tree is perfect. In fact, I don’t think there is any perfect family out there. We are all human, meaning we all make mistakes. However, our fears of the unknown shouldn’t prevent us from discovering the beauty that can be discovered within our families.

As I’ve begun searching through my own family history, I have encountered much beauty in both the good and the bad. I have learned about an uncle who has completely cut himself off from the family, a great grandfather that left his wife and kids, and great uncles that succumbed to the addictions of drugs and alcohol. These stories could have easily left me hurt and confused about my identity, but instead I have chosen to cherish them as mementos of humanity and the things I want to avoid. Those individuals have impacted my life just as much as the family members I admire because they’ve motivated me to be someone better.

By doing genealogy, I have come to realize that our stories do matter. Most of us have spent countless hours studying the lives of artists, war-heros, prophets, and world leaders, but what about the idols and sinners found within our own families? Didn’t they yearn to leave an impact just as much as we do?

Too many stories are being forgotten and we are paying the price of losing pieces necessary in building our individual identity. It is time we uncover the lost and hidden treasures of the world. This will happen as we invest time in doing genealogy, whether it be investigating the lives of our family or narrating the exquisite intricacies of our own lives. Stories must be told and written. Christ has said “hold up your light that it may shine unto the world”; the world cannot be lit with only one light. Light increases by the masses; the world needs everyone to light it. Genealogy is the match that will not only impact you but allow you to leave your impact. How will you shine your light through genealogy?

Hallie Smith

Bountiful, Utah

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