Where next (genetic genealogy and more)?

Apologies in advance if what I write about here duplicates previous posts, but I have no idea how many words I have written on this blog since I launched it nearly 12 years ago. What I do know is that there is a grand total of 370 posts now. I would be surprised if that represents 5% of discussions I have had with various cousins and others researching or writing about ancestral kith and kin. And probably smaller percentage still of those I have bored by talking about my interest in family history.

I also have no idea how many different branches and individuals are mentioned in those 370 posts, although certainly not the 134,000+ individuals my cousin Hamish has amassed working on genealogy for about 25 years. This kindly includes chronicling my more erratic research, along with helping several other cousins. But also trees for in-laws, friends, their spouses, and even some lines he was just asked about. If there was an OBE, or even MBE, for family history/genealogy then he deserves to be awarded one… perhaps knighthood.

I have been speaking to Hamish about how we might share his chronicling in more digestible way, and I am beginning to think that easiest way of doing this would be to share PDF files that can be downloaded… albeit with living descendants anonymised.

In the meantime, suffice to say that my compilation of findings has gone in lots of different directions over the years (more on this later), but I am wondering now whether the catalyst is a common one that I am calling the 3x Gt. Grandfather Enigma. That seems to be a phenomena where people start becoming obsessed about/addicted to ancestry research, often in middle age, having not been able to get much further than about 5 generations back. Put another way, what’s contained in earliest census records is about as far back as they can get. Perhaps this is only true of the UK, where the first major census since the Doomsday book was in 1801.

In my family’s case, we know the name of our paternal 4x Gt. Grandfather (George) and possibly even his wife (Mary), and maybe even where they lived (Charles Street in the parish of St Andrew Holborn), but no idea where they were born. And so it is not clear where to find out more about their ancestry, i.e. which parish records.

According to Lincoln Inn’s records, George was a ‘gent’ late of Kensall Green. He can’t have been that posh because there’s no mention of him in various compendiums of Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage like Debrett’s and Burke’s… or even those about more up-market commoners aka the Landed Gentry.

I am not sure whether the genealogical dead end caused by the 3x Gt. Grandfather Enigma is what leads to many researching other branches of ancestors, both paternal and maternal.  It was for me and what I have discovered since then as been chronicled on here, along with an attempt at digitising and sharing artefacts I own, have discovered and have been shared as a result of this blog.

There’s actually been a lot I have been asked not to share, which is a shame because I think it would be interesting and helpful to others… and I doubt it would be particularly embarrassing to those living regardless of whether they have public profile or not. But I can see how some might want to let ‘what happened in Las Vegas, stay in Las Vegas’ or at least reserved for the eyes of close family only.

What I have never really answered though, is why I am actually bothered.  Can’t say my interest is shared beyond a very small number of close relatives… even if the site seems to be of some interest to more distant kin (Birtwistle’s in particular) and those researching some of who I write about.

I do sometimes wonder whether I am one of many – for we are legion – engaged in some kind of Westernised veneration of ancestors. Or, perhaps more conspiratorially, inadvertently helping the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormons) with their industrial scale baptism for the dead, i.e. through data entry and use of their various online genealogy services that included Ancestry.com before they flogged it to venture capitalists.

That said I doubt whether my blog really counts as some kind of ‘culting’ of ancestors, or at least in a Shinto-like way based on this little snippet by Lafcadio Hearn in Japan, an attempt at interpretation (1904):

“They were the givers of life, the givers of wealth, the makers and teachers of the present: they represent the past of the race, and all its sacrifices; whatever the liver posses is from them. Yet how little do they require in return! Scarcely more than to be thanked, as the founders and guardians of the home, in simple words like this: “For aid received, by day and by night, accept, August Ones, our reverential gratitude”…To forget or neglect them, to treat them with rude indifference, is the proof of an evil heart; to cause them shame by ill-conduct, to disgrace their name by bad actions, is the supreme crime. They represent the moral experience of the race. Whosoever denies that experience, denies them also, and falls to the level of the beasts, or below it. They represent the unwritten law, the traditions of the commune, the duties of all to all; whosoever offends against this, sins against the dead. And finally, they represent the mystery of the invisible: to Shinto beliefs, at least, they are gods.”

As one cousin commented, this seems a little bit extreme because if you don’t do things their way it is “proof of an evil heart” (the supreme crime); “falls to the level of the beasts, or below it”; and even “sins against the dead.”  But as my cousin also commented, it probably helps to think one won’t be forgotten, at least for a very long time.

Anyway, I mention all this because I have also been wondering whether the growing numbers of those finding out about their ancestors that likes of Ancestry.com monetises might have common experiences. And whether these could be analysed in a more cultural-anthropological way, i.e. the why of what they do, or phenomenology. And would discovering any common experiences that help explain the why of it, rather than just the how, be interesting to that audience and others as (creative) non-fiction?

Not sure my sample of one is much to go on as a basis for a book along those lines. A starting point is possibly seeing whether my experience tallies with others. For example, 3x Gt. Grandfather Enigma mentioned above. Or how likely blue blood will eventually be discovered given exponential nature of ancestry, or what I now call the Danny Dyer, right royal geezer effect. And if the chances of that happening might be greatly improved, if at least one of your ancestors – included in census records since they began – are also listed in one of the many compendiums of Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage or even Landed Gentry. Or what I call The Peerage Principle, given that so many of those families listed in those compendiums can be found on the free online resource compiled by Darryl Lundy… with help from their numerous descendants including yours truly.

I only have anecdotal evidence, but it seems like the chances of discovering possible blue blood is improved still further if one of your ancestors is both Scottish and descended from one of the families listed on Darryl’s site. The assumption being that there were just less nobility up there given population density, and so there is a greater chance that at least one of their ancestors would have married into the House of Stewart (BTW – The Clan MacFarlane descendants and associated families genealogy site is a good starting point for all things Scottish ancestry-wise).

Putting accusations of pretension aside, which has been leveled at me by both cousins and others less overtly, what is useful about a ‘FabPedigree‘ is that posher family histories are usually better documented. Likes of Stirnet.com and Genealogy.eu sites can then show how you are descended, at least mythically, from Adam and Eve (hence name of this blog) as well as Viking, Greek, Roman Gods and more.

Fun as discovering noble, royal and mythical descent can be (particularly by chance), it is not really what has kept my interest going all these years. That’s been more about the social aspect of connecting with others and sharing of discoveries/artefacts/stories, and especially for branches and individuals not so well documented. That said, I have been thinking of creating an index of those ancestors that have biographies, wiki entries, etc. And have thought that some of what I have just written about with regard these types of posher pedigrees above could form a chapter or several in a non-fiction book… albeit possibly about those ancestors – real or otherwise – that help join dots; e.g. Sceafa or Scēaf, the non-biblical son of Noah, Dardanus of Greek mythology, etc.

As mentioned in relatively recent post, I have been pondering on whether Genetic Genealogy might be the next step – particularly for those of us including my cousin Hamish who have encountered the 3x Gt. Grandfather Enigma. He’s way ahead of me,  but the DNA genealogy tests he has taken so far haven’t helped him get further back down his paternal male branch… although he has found at least one distant cousin who shares a Confirmed Haplogroup, but it’s not clear idea how many hundred years ago their most recent common ancestor might be. However, he did find out four more generations along from a 2x Gt. Grandmother and 100s of more cousins in various parts of the world as a result. Tests have also confirmed at least 1 brother, first cousins (including my brother) and cousins not so far removed, which shows that the tests are not completely inaccurate and can reveal more ancestors. Here’s hoping that we will both discover more, as more relatives get tested and added to the (gene) pool.

But what is really beginning to intrigue me is whether Genetic Genealogy might completely re-frame how we think about our kith and kin, i.e. not in terms of our shared ancestors, but shared genetic inheritance. It’s just that if you go back far enough then you end up with having more ancestors than the total population of the world today, i.e. the ‘genealogical paradox‘ of exponential growth (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 and so on).

One way of dealing with the genealogical paradox is to limit the scope of genealogical research to certain branches or rigour by which each generation is added based on the credibility of proof. But maybe genetic genealogy is another way of dealing with the paradox by focusing on genetic inheritance instead and associated traits. Firstly, this grounds one’s research back in the here and now. For example, do I have the gene variant known as DRD4-7R, which is thought to be present in around 20 per cent of the population… also known as the wonderlust gene that is linked to ADHD, Creativity, Entrepreneurship and what is called the Hunter vs. Farmer hypotheis. That might account for the skittishness of my research method, and why this blog has been most useful tool for my less linear approach to family history.

More generally, genetic genealogy begs the question whether knowing more about one’s genetic inheritance is actually useful or not, i.e. because of nature vs. nurture. What interests me is whether it may encourage us to think differently about others, particularly with rise of populism that aims to rule by dividing the them from us. Could we start thinking about others more empathetically because we share common (genetic) traits beyond colour of skin, geographical origin, religious persuasion, gender, sexual preference and other aspects of identity? And bringing this back to genealogy could those traits be a lens for looking at our ancestors and their behaviour, career, etc.

That’s where my (possibly genetically determined) thinking is currently at,  although I have no idea about what kind of DNA test I should take to discover whether I have the DRD4-7R variant or others that can be linked to particular traits, conditions, etc. Until I work that out, it’s just another possible way of breaking my current impasse. Non-fiction book might not materialise either, but I think sharing some of cousin Hamish’s relevant chronicling of families I have been covering here is doable. And possibly index of those ancestors that have (ideally) publicly available biographies, wiki-entries, etc. Hopefully, more posts to follow soon.

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