Saturday, June 23, 2007

Genealogy is Bunk

After reading Richard Conniff's article, "The Family Tree, Pruned," in the July issue of Smithsonian, I have decided to give up genealogy. After all, "genealogy is bunk," and genealogists are nothing more than celebrity chasers.

The temptation is to pay attention only to the good news, and look on the family lineage as a golden thread leading down from some glorious ancestor straight down to the lucky modern-day descendants.
Boy, he really knows what motivates genealogists. I don't add anyone to my GEDCOM without checking first to see if he's glorious.

Conniff argues that sharing DNA is less important than we think ("In theory, you may possess no genetic connection whatsoever to your own great-great-grandfather"), and that not sharing DNA is more important than we think ("Go back ten generations in virtually any family, and the odds are that someone has climbed unacknowledged up the family tree"). In other words, I might not have a genetic connection to my great-great-grandfather, but that's irrelevant because odds are his wife was a tramp.

Not only is genealogy bunk, it's pointless. We all have common ancestors a few millennia back, so "Our genealogy is, in a word, identical." Analogously, my brother and I share a common set of parents, so I must also be husband to his wife and father to his child. Unless our mother was a tramp.

Yes, I'm giving up genealogy. If our genealogies truly are identical, I'll just wait until you've finished yours. And then copy it.

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak

You tell 'em, Chris!


Blast! I was waiting for you to finish your tree first, and then I was going to ask YOU for a copy :(

Maybe we could both wait for Megan.....


"Pay attention only to the good"? I wonder what my husband was ignoring when he found his train robber great-uncle, his ancestor's 19th-century palimony suit, his great-grandfather who was killed when he sat on the railroad tracks drunk, and his long line of Swiss executioners. If that represents the BEST of his ancestors, he has a lot of fun in store for him!


My fellow genealogy bloggers must be atypical, because the relatives they blog about are rarely famous (though sometimes notorious).

Maybe Conniff got it backwards; maybe the purpose of genealogy is to make our obscure ancestors famous by telling the world about their lives.

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