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May 3, 2022

Our Obsession with Ancestry Has Some Twisted Roots

You may be interested in an article by Maya Jasanoff and published in The New Yorker magazine. It describes the “history of genealogy.” That is, how we got to where we are today. and how genealogy purposes have changed over the years Quoting from the article:

“You hardly meet an American who does not want to be connected a bit by his birth to the first settlers of the colonies, and, as for branches of the great families of England, America seemed to me totally covered by them,” Alexis de Tocqueville marvelled in 1840. It’s often said that genealogical research is the second most popular hobby in the United States, after gardening, and the second most popular search category online, after porn. Those claims should be sprinkled with a few grains of salt, but more than twenty-six million people have taken genetic ancestry tests since 2012, incidentally creating a database of huge value to pharmaceutical companies and law enforcement. The Silicon Valley-based testing company 23andMe, which formed a partnership with Airbnb to market “travel as unique as your DNA,” went public in June, 2021, with a valuation of $3.5 billion. The genealogical behemoth Ancestry, which boasts more than three million subscribers and the nation’s largest genetic database, was purchased for $4.7 billion in 2020.”

The article also states:

“Our engagement with ancestry spans the spiritual, material, political, and biological realms, each of which has its own technologies and authorities. As a result, our laws, institutions, and imaginations are poorly prepared to deal with the contradictions that arise when one kind of evidence, like a DNA test, contradicts another, like a family story. Such tensions provide fertile ground for memoirs and magazine features, but the situation gets murkier when it comes to privacy, social justice, and national politics.”

In years past, Maya Jasanoff claims that genealogy was an attempt to prove that one was in a “higher position” person than those of the masses. While true at one time, I would hope that is no longer true today. Instead Maya Jasanoff describes today’s genealogy as requiring much more effort and complexity than I ever imagined. You can read the article at: https://bit.ly/3w2WN7Q.