Pi Attitude Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion

Who Do You Think You Are?

It’s not quite “ancestor worship”, but Americans seem to be on a mission to root out their roots.

People want to find out who their forebears were, where and how they lived, what they did with their lives… effectively all that stuff about where you come from.  A few searchers are motivated by dreams of nailing an ancestor who was a member of the British Nobility or a pirate with a treasure map.  But mostly it’s a serious curiosity about family and its origins.

A widely-used service is ancestry.com, whose sites go beyond root-tracing into family networking. Ancestry.com claims millions of paid-up subscribers, to whom they market their store of eleven billion records and forty million family trees.  Their web-based empire stretches to every part of the USA, and other countries around the world. 

You can get hooked on this stuff.  With some people, genealogical searches have become more of a passion than a pastime, with the spread of genealogy websites and the wider accessibility of non-forensic DNA testing. People have been switching off the TV and spending hours online, piecing together ever more elaborate family trees. I can be a form of virtual time-travel.

Genealogy addicts spend hundreds of hours of their free time tracing their origins.  Some even go on to buy the services of professional genealogists, at $100 an hour or more. Says one enthusiast: “I was consumed by finding our story”. One website chief explained the compulsion: “If you’re successful in the early stages, it’s like salted peanuts. Once you start, you won’t stop”.

Unless, of course, you find out something you didn’t know and would kind of prefer not to.  Some dive into data about their family origins expecting to prove their provenance from a particular country, socio-economic group or ethnicity, only to find how wrong their pre-suppositions were.  There can be thrills and spills along the way, especially when the record shows that a reportedly fine, upstanding and virtuous ancestor was clandestinely fathering children with “the help” – quite a strong possibility, for instance, if you count Thomas Jefferson or Strom Thurmond among your illustrious forebears.

History included its darker moments such as wars, invasions and the slave trade.  Miscegenation was often a consequence of brutality.  Search your origins if you will;  but don’t be surprised if your family history turns out to include by-blows and “accidents” that no-one has mentioned in a long time – and even then only in hushed whispers.

Zone: Affiliation & Cohesion Country: USA / North America Product – Services