Back to overview

The Importance of Genealogy and Family History for the Palestinian People: Part I: Personal Benefits

Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 02.03.2006:

By Leyla Zuaiter

The study of family history and genealogy has many potential benefits for the Palestinian people at the personal, community and national level. While I don’t claim that studying your family history will cure all that ails you at any of these levels, it certainly has much to offer.

Personal Benefits: the personal benefits are similar to those for family historians everywhere, but Palestinians are in need of extra doses of these magic ingredients. Depending on whether you live in the homeland or Diaspora, you might need some more than others.

· Increase in self confidence through an understanding and reinforcement of the factors which shape your personal identity—especially in the face of the assaults to this identity from all sides. The actual factors will probably differ depending on your religious/ethnic background, age, gender, whether (and where) you live in the Territories of ‘48, ’67 or the Diaspora and a host of other factors.

· Addition of spice to life. Do you wake up in the morning dreading another day in the deadening daily grind? You deserve more from life. Whatever else may be going on, when it comes to family history, one lives in a state of pleasant anticipation, never knowing when an unexpected email, letter, package or even visitor may arrive.

· Excitement, intrigue and adventure. In pursuing family history, one often feels like a detective, finding clues and piecing them together. If you don’t believe, me, take a look at the description of the new Nizar Hassan film. Not all of the adventures are mental either. You never know what unexpected twist may come about in your life as a result of your family history research.—one such twist is what led to my making this website, for example.

· A hobby which can be pursued even in times of confinement for whatever reason. For much of the eight years of my research I was largely confined to the home for reasons ranging from renovations to accident, yet I still felt myself to be leading a fascinating life full of adventure. And the thing is that adventures just seemed to happen every time I left the house to engage in the most mundane of activities.

· Allows you to meet distant relations and others who share your interests.

o These distant relatives, whose lives may be very different from your own due to the choices made or circumstances forced upon your differing family lines, can offer great insight into the history of your family as a whole, and the individuals in it. Why did great-uncle Khalid immigrate while great uncle Sami stayed put? Was it due more to economic reasons or personal reasons, was he running towards something or away from something?

o They can serve as your guide to the places and ways of life with which you have had no personal experience, an interpreter of customs, traditions, mindsets, and values, not to mention, if need be, translators of lost languages.

o Interaction with these distant relatives can help knock down some barriers and overcome stereotypes. My maternal family is from the American south, for example, which despite place names ranging from Palestine to Algiers is an area where Palestinians might not generally be viewed sympathetically—whether due to the Christian Evangelicalism which prevails or media bias. Yet, the society of the American south shares many characteristics with that of Palestine. And since “kin” is important, I have found that many relatives I have never met, to be most accepting of my version of Palestinian reality. But it cuts both ways, for I have also discovered that perhaps stereotypes of the South as a bastion of prejudice don’t hold.

o All this is besides the photos, documents, stories and other concrete items they can contribute to your family history search!

· Provides a new perspective of one’s own life and times.

o By learning about your ancestors and their daily lives cares, joys and sorrows, you come to realize that the opening line of Dicken’s book “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” can be applied to almost any era. One thing which struck me in Jabra Ibrahim Jabra’s The First Well, was how in the Mandate times—certainly no picnic for Palestinians, Jabra’s parents, did not want to even discuss World War I days, which to them had been infinitely worse. Yet these hard times coexisted with a warm family life which gives plenty of food for thought when contemplating all of the social ills laid at the door of poverty and deprivation these days. Although it is tempting to hark back to the “good old days,” one realizes that either there never were any good old days, or as the song has it, “These are the good old days.” OK OK I hear you! Hey. You missed me with that stone! The point is why copy the rest of the world in reducing Palestinians into shadowy pawns in a political game? Despite all the hardships from the situation, Palestinians still have much that is enviable in their family lives and values that no one can take away—unless you let them.

o When learning about all of the wars, epidemics, natural disasters and other factors which have wiped out large sectors of the population over the centuries, you will marvel that you are here at all!

· Suddenly all your school subjects–even the subjects you most hated become relevant: Genealogy is “applied everything” history, geography, literature, history, geography, literature, economics, foreign language, psychology, anthropology—even math! You will find yourself avidly pursuing all of these fields to help understand your family history.

· The next time someone asks you, “Who do you think you are?” you can tell them in soporific detail—and watch them melt away.

· You will at once realize what is universal about your life and family history, and truly appreciate its—and your own– uniqueness.

· You won’t be able to stop turning the pages of your own life story!

There are no comments. Add one!