Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beyond Genealogical Research

I am one of those people who is obsessed with genealogy. I have transcribed ancient records in obscure German script, I have spent entire days poring over smelly old books in county courthouses, and for the last few years I have had the obligatory subscription to Ancestry.com. My family file consists of tens of thousands of names. That's the result of over fifteen years of research, and I'm sure there's plenty more to come. At this point, though, I've run into enough "dead ends" to know that it is unlikely that I will uncover more ancestors. Most additions to my database over the last six years have been distant cousins. My family tree is growing out, not up. I consider myself fortunate to have learned as much as I have about my direct ancestral line.

But enough about me. What about those who can't go back hundreds of years for the data on specific ancestors, as in some cases I have? The answer, according to this article in the morning paper, lies in our genetic code. A black man in the USA who long felt an affinity for Asian culture and had been told that he possessed Asian physical characteristics took a DNA test and learned that he did in fact have Chinese ancestry on his father's side. This is a wonderful discovery. In the old days, genealogy was an elitist and, in many ways, a racist hobby for those who wanted to demonstrate some kind of assumed "racial purity". The DNA testing of today yields much different results, showing us just how close many of us are in spite of outward differences, and without realizing it.

Not that I would want to have it done for myself -- at least not until such time as the cost of testing drops somewhat lower than $299 -- but if comedian Chris Tucker can determine from DNA testing, and nothing else, that his roots lie with a particular group of people in Angola, then who knows what I might be able to learn about myself beyond the "German" and "Scots-Irish" ethnic classifications that I grew up with? The possibilities are mind-boggling.

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