Sunday, August 17, 2014

Genealogy is as popular as what?


Earlier this summer Time Magazine republished an article by Gregory Rodridgez entitled "How Genealogy Became as Popular as Porn." This breezy piece recounts the history of genealogy from would-be DAR applicants, to Roots, to modern DNA testing, to his own family history.

What I like about this piece is that it engages with some of the unsavory origins of genealogy in America - using it to confirm one's "whiteness." I haven't seen this addressed in any introduction to genealogy books I've read.

The article also points out that during and after the Civil Rights Movement all minority groups felt encouraged "to embrace their previously marginalized identities." This led them to begin researching their own family histories. At the same time historians began to investigate the historic experience of the marginalized in America and around the world. Now side by side with studies of Popes, Presidents, and Pilgrims you will find works like The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller and Pioneer Women: The Lives of Women on the Frontier. (none of which I've read yet...)

Thanks to the social changes of the past half-century historians have chosen to document the lives of non-elites and those same non-elites have been empowered to learn about their own histories. However, until recently genealogical research has meant travelling to distant archives and courthouses, combing through indexes and transcribed records. Now, thanks to the increasing number of digitized sources and entities like FamilySearch and Ancestry that index these records, genealogy research is now much more accessible. It's still not cheap, but it is accessible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Article: Cleveland's European Ethnic Heritage Online

Cleveland was greatly impacted by the “new immigration” of late 19th and early 20th centuries. As many of these immigrants came from regions of Europe that have been greatly impacted by war and boundary changes, they can be difficult to trace. I share sources for researching your European ancestors who settled in Cleveland in the August/September issue of Internet Genealogy.

Get your issue today at Books-A-Million, Barnes & Nobles, Chapters, through the app on iTunes, or a PDF version from the publisher.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Immigration Restriction and Genealogy

China Pavilion, Epcot

For the past several years I have pitched a talk to genealogy conferences on "unwanted ancestors" which would provide an introduction to anti-immigration feeling in the United States and how that might have impacted an ancestor's life. As an immigration historian, I know that as a country we have not always been so welcoming to immigrants and the present difficulties are really more of the same. I've always thought such a talk would provide family historians with a greater understanding of the world in which our ancestors lived. This talk has been routinely rejected, although perhaps I'll see a change this year since I have given the talk a new title and a spruced-up outline. 

In the meantime, I am heartened (or disheartened depending upon your viewpoint) by this story from NPR's Code Switch which demonstrates that American anti-immigration laws have had a direct impact on the ability of Chinese families to accurately document their family histories. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Near the Bookshelf: Ancestors and Relatives

In 2013,  Eviatar Zerubavel's book Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community was released in paperback. This interview is from Rutgers University, where Zerubavel is a professor of sociology. 

I remember the book caused a bit a stir on genealogy lists when it was first published in 2011. I quickly added the book to my "to read" list. I was intrigued by his premise that "[r]ather than simply find out who our ancestors were and identify our relatives, we actually construct the genealogical narratives that make them our ancestors and relatives." As an immigration historian I am all about constructing identity.  I was equally fascinated by the complaints that genealogists had about it. One that sticks in my mind was that he hadn't spoken to any actual genealogists. This seemed odd to me because, in my experience, sociologists are all about talking to people. Sociology and history, particularly in migration studies, have many similarities and reach many of the same conclusions with one big exception. Sociologists study the living and historians study the dead.

I still haven't managed to read Ancestors and Relatives, but after reading this interview, it has moved up the list considerably.  

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Family Trees on the Internet

Do they belong in your family tree?

This NPR story, broadcast in February 2014, highlights a significant problem with using the internet to do genealogy: family trees that are all wrong. Granted badly researched trees and falsified family trees have always existed. The convenience of the web now makes it much easier to find them and connect to them on, and similar sites.

So beware of family trees you find online and use them as clues to guide your research. Always ask yourself if the appearance of a particular person in an online tree makes sense geographically, chronologically, and historically.

With thanks to who posted a link to this story on their Facebook page.
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