Your Life & Mine: The Rules of Ancestry Research

Left to Right: My father, his grandparents, my mother and her parents.

I’m currently reading a book by Christine Kenneally entitled, THE INVISIBLE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE. In the first chapter Ms Kenneally tells us about the Maori people of New Zealand and their tradition of whakapiri — the recitation of genealogies to establish genetic connections between any two people. She also informs us that among the Somalian people, children learn their extensive genealogies by heart when they are under ten years of age.

In my mother’s family, little information was passed down about their roots and ancestry. However, in my father’s family, I heard many stories of grandparents, great grandparents, and even personal anecdotes going back as far as 6 and 7 generations. All but one of these stories have turned out to be true. (No, we aren’t direct descendants of Daniel Boone. It’s more like he’s a many-greats-uncle-in-law!) We have a strong tradition of adoption in my father’s family, and the family also passed down the biological family stories of those very precious brothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins.

Researching ancestry and family genetics can be a fun and challenging hobby, but pride can crop up in hideous ways. Consider the Nazi myth of the master race, used to justify the slaughter of millions before and during World War II.

I abide by two rules as I research:

1. EVERYONE should be proud of their family’s genetic roots.

2. That pride does NOT justify feeling superior to those who differ from us.

When I was a child and boasting about my supposed many-greats grandfather, Daniel Boone, my father said, “It doesn’t matter what your ancestors did. All that matters is what you do.” Words to live by.

Tell us about your family. Were family histories and identities passed down or were those things unimportant in your family life? Are you interested in puzzling out your family heritage?

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2 Responses to Your Life & Mine: The Rules of Ancestry Research

  1. Both sets of my grandparents were alive until after I was married, but other than that, my family never seemed all that interested in our roots. One grandfather often told us grandchildren stories of Ireland, but they weren’t really our family’s stories. When I married, one of the first things my new father-in-law did was give me a copy of the family tree, along with a blank pedigree form to add my side…which I didn’t have. It wasn’t until just recently that I acquired a file of info from an aunt and decided to build on it for the sake of our children. This summer I gave each of our three married children a large binder containing their family tree and various supporting documents. It was a rewarding project. I wish I’d undertaken it years ago. 🙂

  2. Sue Harrison says:

    What a wonderful project, Carol, and a gift for your children that will also be a joy for grandchildren and on down!! I need to do the same. Most of my info for our family is on scraps of paper in a file folder!

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