UNITED STATES—Genealogy has crossed the line from hobby to big business. The creation of growing databases and television shows like TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” has made it so that anyone can trace their ancestry in ways that few could do in the past.
In ancient Rome, books were written on various topics including “antiquarianism,” which was the word describing chronological studies of a certain topic, including genealogy if the family was important.
Once upon a time family histories were passed down through stories that required a Patronymic naming system. For example, I would tell you that John, son of Joe Schmoe of Nowhereland walked with me to the market today instead of saying John Schmoe.
If you ever spent hours or days trying to distinguish between 15 men named John White that all lived within 50 years of one another, you would understand how frustrating the old ways must’ve been. The naming system dictated naming children in a certain order. For example, three brothers would have ALL named their first son after their “father’s father” and then the third son would have been named after the father.
I am sure this is what sparked John Farmer, whom Wikipedia lists as the father of “systematic genealogy,” to start using a methodical manner, rather than merely attempting to link oneself to a notable person as was the previous reasoning.
In fact, Adam and Eve are not the only historic bloodlines that claim to be still active. There are living people that descend from Confucius, William the Conqueror, and even King David, through Sigmund Freud.
As wonderful as these genealogies seem to be, senior research specialist for familysearch.org Robert Gunderson says that he never seen a pedigree successfully prove its link to the biblical royals or beyond “450-752AD.” That could be changing though.
In 2008, DNA from Bronze Age bones was tested, finding two living people that are a direct link from the 3000 year old ancestor.
This gives great encouragement to those adopted, or with an unknown parent. DNA testing is available from many websites, and what is amazing are the DNA circles that ancestry.com uses to match you with other living individuals that match your DNA.
Also available are the records that people had to travel for in the past. Even if you cannot afford the membership, there is a great source of information at familysearch.org that I would suggest using before you sign up anywhere else. The website is owned by the Mormons, and for a long time I wondered WHY they kept such phenomenal genealogical records?
PBS answered my question, and I learned that people of the Mormon faith do what is called baptizing the dead.
Start with the records here, that are verifiable such as birth, marriage, and death. Get your main players accumulated and then try to find census records or, if your lucky, the wills because oftentimes dying people mentioned all of their living family members, if they liked them.
In a piece titled, “The Meaning and Meaninglessness of Genealogy,” Professor Lents of John Jay college tells us something I knew for sure, and must convey to any beginners: many family records are now corrupt – full of errors that genealogists made 100 years ago, that have now been incorporated into the histories of millions of family tree makers.
Make sure you collect the documentation with each generation!
If you do not, it will be ironic that after we’ve been given great tools to answer the question of Who Are You many people will end up just as much in the dark about the true ancestral heritage – even after paying the membership fees!