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Two family members have greatly affected my outlook on life. Both died for their country: Alf in the First World War and Ernie in the Second World War. Sacrifice is unfashionable notion among many today, but visiting their graves made me fully appreciate what this word truly means.
Many historians look down their noses at family history, viewing it as parochial stuff that is fit only for amateurs. But I would suggest that there might be a hint of jealousy here as family history has grown increasingly popular over the past decade and continues to go from strength to strength. Indeed, anyone attending a historical conference or show will note that family-history speakers and family-history presentations are often the ones that attract the largest crowds.
In addition, those who deride family history should take a long, hard look at their arguments for doing so and ask themselves why the subject is so fascinating for the millions involved. In this age of globalisation and angst, I suspect that many research their family backgrounds – either consciously or subconsciously – in order develop an understanding and excitement for the past that their schools conspicuously failed to provide. Secondly, many family historians I've met put professional historians to shame with their ability to navigate archives, libraries and various internet sites from the comfort of their homes. On the latter issue, too many historians continue to act as though this ‘computer thing’ will never catch on.
In the meantime, my own family has two characters that have fascinated me over the years: my great grandfather and great uncle. Both were killed in conflict, in the First World War and Second World War respectively. Both were talented young men, with a world of opportunities ahead of them. However, they were not exceptional nor, to be blunt, were they essential to the war effort. But with millions like them it was possible to fight and defeat an enemy that, in both cases, was determined to dominate and remake Europe in its own image.
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