For most of us who will never make the news, publish books, win national awards or be highly ranked on Internet search engines, that knowledge is defined by our relationships to others and to our family.
In search of a secure and unchanging factual concept of self, millions have picked up amateur genealogy as a hobby.
It's been estimated that genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States, as Utah's Senator Orrin G.
Hatch said 2003, while he pushed for October to become nationally known as Family History Month.
That resolution passed and President Bush officially designated October as Family History Month that year.
Since 2003, newcomers have flocked to the now trendy pastime, creating scores of websites, magazines, blogs and conferences about the pursuit of family history.
One of the largest websites even allows visitors to build their own family trees, share it with other users and access online records.
The nationally recognized genealogical research center Family History Library, run as a non-profit organization by the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints is visited by close to 2,000 history seekers daily from around the world.
Their website, launched in 1999, has over 1 billion names in its index and boasts over 1 million page views daily.
While it's clear that amateur genealogy has taken off as a hobby, it's difficult to ascertain the exact number of people interested in it.
Because much of the research can be done alone, it's not a hobby that requires joining a club, though genealogy clubs where members can discuss their roadblocks and findings have sprung up rapidly.
For those that prefer to research on their own, there's no membership roster to check, and they remain uncounted.
Amateur genealogy, in fact, could have become so popular partly because it doesn't require the joining of a team or club, or depend much on others.
How successful the hobbyist is depends solely on how dedicated they are to unearthing old family records.
In the past, amateur genealogy required countless trips to county courthouses and state offices of vital records.
Birth, marriage and death certificates are the cornerstones a genealogy is built upon, so there's no substitute for tracking down old vital records.
While it's still possible to obtain records by visiting vital statistics offices in person, that's often not feasible because of the vast distances people live from their ancestors.
If, for example, you find that your great grandmother had a sister in California, and you live in New Jersey, a visit in search of your great aunt's vital records isn't in the cards.
Technology has made easier options possible.
Using an online certified birth certificate service is incredibly convenient.
Whether working on your research at 2 p.
or 2 a.
, it's easy to place an order.
Plus you can order an ancestor's birth certificate from geographical distance states It's important to review the reputation of the company you're considering for online vital records, and to choose one that's safe and reliable.
It is equally important to know what restrictions, if any, a particular state or local vital records office may have regarding genealogy requests.
Some agencies do limit online ordering to emergency orders only but many government agencies do rely on online vital record ordering services for any type of request, which is an excellent sign that the company is a professional and trustworthy source.
Once an online service is selected, the birth certificates, death certificates and marriage licenses of your extended family could be at your fingertips, making it much easier and faster to continue building your family tree.