The recent presidential campaign came complete with pedigrees of the candidates. Oprah Winfrey is publically delving into her family history. A television show investigates celebrities’ ancestors. Genealogy and genealogists have always been around, but now the pursuit of one’s ancestors has become even more popular, even fashionable.
In Canada, two national television programs featuring genealogy are popular. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is based on a BBC program of the same name that first aired in 2004. On each show, a national celebrity is featured as they research and discover their family history. Viewers are drawn by the subject’s reactions to the revelations. Producer Janice Tufford thinks that storytelling is at the heart of the appeal.
The other show,“Ancestors in the Attic,” features a panel of genealogists who track down the answers to questions posed by viewers about their own family histories. The camera crew goes on location from archives to graveyards.
Genealogy is the second most popular hobby, surpassed only by gardening. In 1847 some reasons given for researching your family tree were curiosity, family pride, and settling questions of heirship. All those reasons, and more, still apply today.
One of the best reasons is that genealogy is simply fascinating. Who doesn’t like to figure out a puzzle? It has all the elements of a CSI mystery plus the added attraction of being real. People who think they wouldn’t be interested are hooked when they see evidence that humanizes those long dead ancestors. One woman found the records of a plantation owner documenting the purchase of her great-great-grandfather as a slave and was moved to tears.
It can bring you to a new understanding about who you are and where you came from. A Jewish man was deeply disturbed when he discovered that his family history included members of the hated Nazis. After attending a reunion of that branch of the family and learning more about them, he was able to come to terms with the connection.
More and more people want to learn about their ancestors’ health histories. These can help predict your genetic predisposition toward certain diseases and health conditions. Cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and even mental illness have been linked to genetics. DNA testing is also becoming a popular way to learn about your ancestors.
Tracing ancestors used to mean sitting in dark, dusty archives peering at microfilm readers, and trips to far away graveyards. While it still can involve these things, more and more records are available on the Internet. There are many genealogy websites, some that charge a fee, some that don’t. Local libraries and genealogical societies have many resources, including classes on how to get started and other topics. Finding your roots, as Alex Haley did, is easier than ever – so what are you waiting for?