I have always considered myself extremely fortunate. When I was young, I was surrounded by family. My paternal grandparents lived across the alley behind us, along with my grandfather's mother and aunt, and my father's younger brother. My maternal grandparents also lived a short bicycle ride away with my mother's younger brother. Four of my great-grandparents were still living, several great-grandaunts and uncles, and many grandaunts and uncles. As my parents worked, I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents and my maternal grandmother's oldest sister, who had never had children and became a surrogate grandmother.
From this group, I heard countless stories about the family and met all the distant relations as they came through town on visits to the older generations. My paternal grandfather especially loved to share stories of his youth with me. I was the first grandchild, so became his confidant and "little helper" as he delved into genealogy after he retired in the mid-80s. We would pack up a sandwich and a few notepads and visit the local libraries, courthouses, historical and genealogical societies, and archives, spending hours pouring through dusty city directories, scanning through endless rolls of microfilm, and searching bound volumes of passenger manifests.
I've always been of a studious nature, so it stuck, and as my grandfather's health declined I became the official family historian. He never learned to use a computer, so passed everything to me to further the research when he hit deadends and could no longer visit the repositories in person. I have continued it extensively, and added my maternal side. I had just located the records that led to finding my grandfather's great-aunt's descendants (he had always thought her children had all died in infancy), when he passed away without my being able to share the information. I will always credit him for passing on the genealogical bug to me, just as I will always miss him.
The bug bit even harder, though, after his death. My grandmother moved into an assisted living facility and decided to give away everything while she still lived instead of waiting. I inherited all the family photos (including multiple large wall portraits), letters, and other genealogical items (including funerary books, diplomas, yearbooks). Shortly after, my maternal grandfather passed into my keeping his mother's papers and photos, which amounted to two truckloads of boxes! No one had gone through the boxes for decades - some had been packed by my great-great-grandmother in the 1950s, and not opened since. The finds have been amazing - everything from photos of my 4th great-grandparents, my 4th great-grandfather's Bible, my 3rd great-grandfather's pipe, reading glasses, and a half-used tin of tobacco, to the deeds to all the family properties, original handwritten wills, IRS tax returns from 1930 onward, and my 2nd great-grandfather's shaving kit that hadn't been opened since he died in 1943. The inheritance of such a collection has led me down a second path as an archivist or curator, and is fueling a renewed effort of researching my family to find some of the more distant relations mentioned in the letters, or who sent one of the thousands of postcards, or are pictured in the countless photos.