Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Contrary Code of Conduct

Like Thomas MacEntee, I think a GeneaBloggers' Code of Conduct is long overdue. From now on, any blogger wishing to appear in my Genealogy Blog Finder must adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Follow best genealogical practices at all times. Or else learn to fake it like the rest of us.
  2. Hateful language will not be tolerated unless directed at people I also hate.
  3. When attacking religions, lay off the Mormons because you'll probably need their help someday.
  4. Politics should never, ever be discussed on a genealogy blog because Obama is the Antichrist.
  5. Always give proper attributions for the stuff you rip off from better blogs.
  6. Your grandchildren are not as cute as you think they are, so stop writing about them.
  7. Never accept money or gifts from companies in return for favorable reviews of their products without first offering to cut me in.
  8. As Ernest Hemingway once told my grandfather over a bottle of absinthe while celebrating the liberation of Paris, "Do not embellish your family history to attract readers."
  9. Periodically post your blog's traffic statistics so those of us with more visitors can feel superior.
  10. Ask for help when you need it. But don't ask me to help you move, because I'm busy that weekend.
Note: Being listed in the Genealogy Blog Finder constitutes membership in the community and acceptance of the preceding terms. Retroactive membership fees of $50 per year may be sent via PayPal to the email address in my profile.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ménage à Trois in a Test Tube Revisited

I first wrote about scientists producing human embryos with the DNA of three people in 2008. The new issue of Nature has an article on the researchers' progress.

The British team carrying out the study used fertilized eggs donated by couples undergoing fertility treatment, and which were unsuitable for in vitro fertilization (IVF). At this early stage the sperm and egg nuclei, which contain most of the parental genes, have not yet fused. The researchers removed these nuclei and transferred them into another fertilized egg cell which had had its own nuclei removed.

As very little cytoplasm was transferred with the nuclei, the transfer left behind almost all the mitochondria from the donor egg.
Neurologist Doug Turnbull doesn't think a contributor of mitochondria should be considered a parent.
Turnbull compared mitochondria to the power source for a laptop. “All the characteristics of the computer are stored on the computer. We’re just changing the battery,” he said. [Link]
For genealogists, it's a bit more complicated than that. Mitochondrial DNA has become a convenient way to trace maternal ancestry, and that only works if the DNA was contributed in the natural way. Someday we might have to distinguish between OEM batteries and those provided by third-party manufacturers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Genealogy: Another Reason for Your Family to Hate You

Not only is genealogy a worthless pursuit, it can lead to family discord.

Illegitimate children, hidden affairs, troubled finances and deceit all await those determined to piece together their family's past, found Dr Anne-Marie Kramer of Warwick University.

When she interviewed more than 220 people across the country who had looked into their past, she discovered it had led to conflict with relatives in more than one in eight cases. [Link]
So, in about 7 out of 8 cases, family history research did not lead to conflict. Those are pretty good odds. And the odds might be even better, as there's no telling from the article what exactly constitutes a "conflict," and whether these conflicts can be fairly attributed to genealogy. Some of the problems described here and elsewhere—neglecting family, pestering reticent relatives—are more about being unpleasant human beings than about making unpleasant discoveries. Someone who neglects her children because she's obsessed with genealogy would probably do the same if obsessed with Sudoku. And someone who badgers a relative for information is probably a jerk in his non-genealogical life as well.

As for uncovering secrets, I love finding illegitimate children, hidden affairs, troubled finances and deceit in my family. (I'm certainly not British enough to ever be disturbed by the discovery of an ancestor's "previously unknown humble origins.") All four show up in the family of one of my grandparents. In fact, we're planning a DNA test to settle a paternity question in the family. No conflicts here, just questions waiting for answers.

There are families with legitimately disturbing secrets, disclosure of which would embarrass or anger the living. And I have no problem with Dr. Kramer warning of the (meager) risks. Personally, I'd rather know an unhappy truth than live in happy ignorance, but if others want to cling to myths, that's up to them. That said, in some cases discretion should keep us from publishing the truth. But nothing should keep us from ethically discovering and recording it.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Every Family Has a Story, And Yours Probably Sucks

The Times has another of those "genealogists are (and should be) only interested in famous ancestors" articles, this time by Sathnam Sanghera.

Genealogists also have a habit of remarking that “every family has a story”. But it’s not necessarily a story worth telling.
Given the huge number of worthless family stories in the world, how fortuitous that Sanghera found his own worth telling.
And before anyone points out the hypocrisy of a memoirist slagging off genealogy, life writing and genealogy are completely different. One being the equivalent of an interest in music, the other the equivalent of an interest in hi-fi equipment.
No, one is the equivalent of the narcissist who talks of nothing but himself, the other the equivalent of the empathic person who shows legitimate interest in the stories of others. You know, the kind of person who might actually buy and enjoy Sanghera's memoirs.

Friday, April 02, 2010

They Were Practically War Buddies

Chris Staats finds five degrees of separation between himself and George Washington. I think I can beat him.

I knew my great-aunt Gladys (died when I was 25), who knew her grandfather Lemuel Dunham (died when she was 10), who knew his grandfather Moses Dunham (died when he was 15). Moses served in the Continental Army under Washington for a couple of years, and was by his own account present at the surrender of Cornwallis. I would imagine he was in the front row and met the general himself, which would leave four degrees of separation between me and Washington.

If you think you can beat me, I preemptively doubt your evidence and ridicule your logic.

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