Wallis: The Ancestor Search

Jul 31, 2014

Most of us want to know where we came from. Interest in genealogy is exploding and the internet means finding out who your great grandparents were may only be a few clicks away.
 

Recently, Time magazine ran a piece with the intriguing title, “How genealogy became as popular as porn.” Apparently, genealogy is the second most searched internet category – porn being the first.

After gardening, genealogical research is our second most popular leisure activity. And given the huge horse flies in my garden right now, I’m happy to opt for the family history.

I tried the two week free trial period on Ancestry.com and barely came up for air.

One day, for six painful hours, I got thoroughly confused between two George Flemings, one the son of a sculptor and the other of unknown parentage. Both lived in the same town at the same time, and one of my Scottish ancestors married one of them. I hope I haven't built an entirely fictitious family tree by picking the wrong one.

My husband’s father came over from Scotland at age fourteen on the ‘Transylvania’ - a passage reflected in two documents: the Scottish record of the departing ship and one from the U.S. harbor upon arrival.

This month’s National Geographic has an article about an incredible archeological discovery in the Orkney Isles of Scotland, where about five thousand years ago the Scots built an advanced temple complex - almost as large as the Acropolis, but 2,500 years older. The article quotes many Scots who are tickled to find their home is a “cradle of civilization”.

I think many of us go looking for our ancestors in hopes of turning out to be important somehow - much like those who claim to be the reincarnation of somebody famous. A relative of mine was pretty sure she’d been Cleopatra - but I’d rather have helped to build the pyramids, since then I might know how it was done.

My Uncle, who married a Swede, has set off in search of the British side of the family. And he’s learned our Wallises were not very affluent sellers of boots.

It’s all very well, and really quite interesting, to look into our family histories and build our own narratives around what we find. But a more hopeful reminder of our humanity might be to look even further into our past. Author A.J. Jacobs has set out to prove that we're all cousins and he's established a creative niche by interviewing famous people who also happen to be his distant relatives.

I ordered a couple of Genographic kits in the mail. One DNA swab of the inner cheek revealed more about where I came from. On the maternal line, my last genetic marker is from 47,000 years ago. My son carries DNA found in both Iceland and Bangladesh.

Of course, if I trace the winding map of ancestry back far enough, it turns out that we’re all from Africa.