More people are tracing their family histories than ever before. Throughout time we’ve been fascinated by who we are and where we come from. Tracking our genealogy is a compelling activity that demands the same persistence and deductive reasoning as detective work. Learning our ancestry requires solving a series of mysteries — and in this case the mystery is about us.
There’s usually something that triggers a search. A friend inherited a portrait painted in the early 1900s. He saw a striking resemblance between himself, his son, and one of the faces in the painting with a familiar look of mistrust in the eyes. He set out to learn if he and the mystery person were related. He was surprised to find that they inherited the physical resemblance and the character trait from his great uncle.
In our family, yellowed photos document my grandmother’s expertise in tapestry weaving. In 1716, Czar Peter the Great founded a tapestry center in St. Petersburg, Russia. Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918,) the last Empress of Russia, commissioned some of my grandmother's tapestries and presented her with a gold medal.
The Czarina and her family were murdered during the Bolshevik Revolution, which influenced my grandparents' decision to leave Russia and emigrate to Canada. As you can see from the newspaper photo above, my grandmother’s skills were appreciated in her new home. Lucky members of our family have signed tapestries, not to mention fascinating stories about Russia, the upheaval of leaving her homeland, and her life as a Canadian immigrant. I wish I had asked more questions.
It’s getting easier to do genealogical research. Free websites like ancestry.com advertise on TV and tempt us with stories like this:
“Just days after beginning her family history search, Emily discovered a truly legendary ancestor. She traced her family all the way back to her 10 times great-grandmother, who was also George Washington’s Aunt.”
The Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 to 479 BCE) is said to have 3 million descendants all over the world. Curious if you’re one of them? Research is the only way to know.
In addition to validating a story about being related to a famous person, there are practical reasons for searching your genealogy. You can assess the risk of genetic diseases, track documents to prove you’re heir to estate property, and identify your lineage.
Surprises accompany most searches. Human nature includes rebellion. Tell people whom they can and can’t love and watch what happens — varied ethnicities, mixed cultures, and diverse religions.
What if we're all distant relatives?
Sources: ancestry.com, genealogicalstudies.com, Zhou, legalgeneaologist.com