Who do you think you are?

So I’ll totally confess that I read with great interest The Hollywood Reporter’s “Inside Kardashian Inc.” article this morning. Ever since the O.J. trial, I’ve been fascinated with Kris Jenner — outside of flaunting opportunism, chasing celebrity, valuing fame-for-no-reason and everything else I can’t stand, you have to admit that she’s built an empire and runs it with charm and savvy. Underneath it all, she also seems genuinely attached to and concerned about her kids … a real mom.

That’s actually apropos of nothing except to tell you about a quote in the article. Kris Jenner took some advice from Kathie Lee Gifford’s father as her personal motto: “Find out what you love to do in your life and then figure out a way to get paid for it.

Hmph.

I’ve been on a journey for the last three years trying to find out what I actually love to do, all the while questioning and exploring my skills, talents, training and education and trying to leave myself open to new paths. I come from a generation stuck between X and Y — we don’t expect to be handed something for nothing, but we also need to work with passion and purpose. I haven’t found mine yet, or at least I haven’t found a way to get paid for it.

I love food and cooking and all, but I would actually be a genealogist if I didn’t have to earn a paycheck. I love the sleuthing through old records and putting together the puzzle pieces that connect you to and tell you about your ancestors, your past and ultimately who you are. All my life, my grandmothers shared their stories about our family, and I was (am) lucky that they both lived into their 90s with minds sharp as tacks. My grandmother can still tell me anecdotes about growing up in the 1920s! Because of that, I’ve always had a firm sense of my roots.

When I was a teenager, I uncovered a family document we call “Aunt Betty’s chart.” Aunt Betty was unmarried and lived back in the 1800s with her bachelor brother, a doctor, in the wilds of Florida (on land that later became Florida State University). She was our first family genealogist, and she gathered information on her ancestors back to the family who immigrated to Savannah from England in the 1790s. Her chart documents her lineage but also her siblings and their families, so she really did all the legwork for us.

That’s when my obsession with genealogy began, and I still work on it when I have time. I can connect myself to the English royal family, U.S. presidents, mayors and most of the plain-old regular folk who lived before me. In 2002, my mom and I visited Powderham Castle in Devon, England, home of the current Earl of Devon and our family’s homestead until our branch moved to Ireland in the 1400s. Last summer, the families of my grandmother’s siblings all gathered for a reunion in Savannah and Beaufort, S.C., where we toured the Bythewood House, home of our ancestors who evacuated Beaufort during the Civil War as it fell in the Battle of Port Royal. They were never allowed to return.

Perhaps it’s my love of history, but I think everyone is interesting and has some sort of story or experience to tell that’s different from my own. I feel the same about my ancestors, and they lived through unbelievably difficult times and trail-blazed new paths that allow me (and us) to live the way we do today. Meryl Streep said something on a recent episode of PBS’s “Faces of America” that has always stuck with me: “We are the sum of all the people who have lived before us.” Profound.

So, anyway, I soak up everything about genealogy — I read the New England Historic Genealogical Society‘s press releases, I scour genealogy websites and forums, I’ve talked to and interviewed my living relatives while I can, and I’ve even looked into a professional genealogical certification.

I am also an avid watcher of all genealogy-related television. “Faces of America” was great, the new “Searching for…” on OWN is different but kind of related. My absolute favorite though is NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Each week a different celebrity investigates missing pieces of their family tree, many times uncovering surprising and emotional revelations. They always learn more about themselves, and I always learn more about the history of our country or the immigrant experience. It’s very well done. The show airs on Friday nights, so tune in this week or set your DVRs — don’t miss it!

Since tracing your genealogy these days is easier than ever and there’s a surge in popularity about finding our family stories, my efforts to get paid to help people will probably be dampened. But I’ll keep on — it’s a passion, it has purpose and I do it even though I don’t make a living at it. That’s really all we can do.

How about you? What would you love to do and get paid for it too?

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