Genealogy used to be something reserved for grandparents and great aunts with a lot of time on their hands to do the painstaking and time-consuming research. It involved looking through old family letters and photographs, gathering somewhat subjective and often unreliable interviews of surviving family members, and perhaps traveling to local libraries to research newspaper articles to piece together a coherent family history.
No longer. With easy access to research via the Internet and the popularity of low-cost DNA testing, curious people are looking to trace their ancestral heritage, and for many, the results have typically been surprising.
People are curious about their families. Often, they want the strange and wonderful tales passed down through generations from great-great-grandparents to be true. But often, there is no confirmation. And what of those relatives who immigrated to a new country, where stories can so easily be lost?
Recently, a video circulated over social media focusing on people who decided to do DNA testing, and who were shocked at the results. Some found that there were traces of American Indian, African American, or Jewish heritage in their otherwise white, Protestant and Western European families.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out this trend and why so many seem to be surprised that the family history they’ve been told doesn’t jive with the actual history. Many immigrants who came to the U.S. in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often abandoned the family heritage of Irish, Italian or Jewish roots if they thought it might cause problems for them in their new country. Understandably, much family history was left behind in favor of freedom and assimilation in a new country.
Researching geology can also provide some confirmation of family lore. While some people prefer the magic of storytelling, especially when told by a beloved uncle, others want to know the truth. There is also the hard truth that stories are often more interesting and fantastical than real-life facts. So would you want to dispel the myth of family tradition so easily? Some family members might not accept it.
Another article in The Washington Post credited the rise in popularity of DNA testing and genealogy as a positive movement, because it can help those who were adopted into families understand their own genetic history. It can connect people with families who might not know they are related, and also provide insight into the family’s health history, which can inform their own medical decisions.
Genealogy study has gone mainstream, and with technical advances in the area, more and more people will be able to research their own genetic makeup and family history with relatively little cost and effort.