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.

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