Barking Up the Family Tree Again: How Pets Humanize Our Genealogy

1920s unknown with dog aunt mertiesIt is easy to view our more recent ancestors, our parents and grandparents, in a humanistic light. Many times we knew them personally, we remember them from a first-person experience. We know how they looked, sounded, felt, reacted. Based on what we see (or remember) we mentally categorize them–as kind or grumpy, loving or vile, and all sorts of descriptive terms in between.

For the family genealogist, once we research beyond known ancestors, there is the tendency to feel dis-attached from them. It is natural for this to happen. Unless someone spoke frequently about them, shared stories or photographs, and helped us to emotionally connect with them, they feel unreal to us. Frequently these relatives are “just a name” that evokes no strong sentiment.

My grandmother, Mattie Kilborn holding a kitten, circa 1895

My grandmother, then Mattie Kilborn, holding a kitten, circa 1895

Isn’t it this emotional attachment that we often seeking when we research? It always was, and is, with me. So, this is where the knowledge of our family member’s pets comes into play. Knowing the family pets helps more than any biography, obituary, or census document, to reinforce the idea that an ancestor had a lovable, sentimental human side. This instantly humanizes them. And this is why that knowledge needs to be included in your genealogy, to share with future generations.

Ah yes, you may say, they married my other ancestor and had children. True it takes two to produce progeny, but that in itself is not proof of love, is it? However owning a pet, a companion animal, especially if there is a photograph or a story showing that ancestor’s affection toward it, IS proof.

The knowledge of family pets offer us insight that we otherwise would not have. Arthur Conan Doyle said it best: “A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.”

Pets factor frequently into my family, as you will see by these photographs. On that note, I share my family’s love affair with pets with you.

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Barking Up the Family Tree (an earlier post of mine on the same topic, in 2008)

Northern Mama: Family History – Family Life : Man’s Best Friends and the Memories They Create!

Buddies: Soldiers and Animals in World War II: Prologue Magazine > National Archives

Native American Dog Mythology

10 Famous Horses in The History

6 Famous Dogs of History

The 50 Most Fabulous (and Famous) Cat Ladies of All Time

5 Famous Cats that Made History

10 Famous Weird Pets in History – Flavorwire

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4 Responses to Barking Up the Family Tree Again: How Pets Humanize Our Genealogy

  1. Penrod Virginia says:

    wonderful, heart touching! Happy to see our Critter Kin included in our Genealogy

  2. pen4hire says:

    Love it! How I wish I had more ancestor photos with pets! I had to make do with stories of my own family’s pets and going back only two generations.

  3. Pingback: Pets Are Family Part Two - Ancestors in Aprons

  4. Amy says:

    Wonderful post! I did a pet family tree of sorts a while back here:

    As you will see, I am also a devoted animal lover!

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