21 October 2011

Are Some People Playing Dress-up Genealogy?

Have you watch many "Who Do You Think You Are" episodes? You might think that entertainers are all descendants of most remarkable people. So many of these ancestors made outstanding contributions to the social order or such. Presentations like these are a recent trend that may be cheapening our view of our own ancestors.

A book review in Boston Globe, Are Genealogies Just Social Constructs?, looks at a recent book, Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community, by Eviatar Zerubavel.  The author writes that people are painting their ancestors into social roles or constructions of the day.  

I know that years ago people went to "genealogist" in order to get back a book claiming royalty or some fantastic claim to fame.

Now-a-days, suffrage movements must have had people maybe I can paint an ancestor or two into the suffrage cause, since they lived in a progressive State.  And to balance the tales another branch can have some underground railroad busters, since they lived in the border States.  All sorts of subjective conjecture is making for great stories, and especially with ancestors no one knew much about anyway.

Personally I have one family branch who appears in Florida during the British Period (i.e. American Revolution).  The first book about them claimed they were plantation owners escaping a slave revolt in Haiti, leaving behind the bulk of their great wealth.  Volume two came out years later claiming they were on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War and escaped to safety in British Florida and remained there after the Spanish regain control.  The first version is more exciting and romantic, but the second has documentation.

I guess the lesson remains that we need to follow the documentation and leave the other tale for historical fiction writers.

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