I had to start this post off with a Game Of Thrones reference. ‘Blood of my blood’, if you’re familiar with the show, is a reference to the Dothraki saying between a Khal and his blood-riders. (6 seasons later, I’m still mourning Khal Drogo. RIP.) It’s a term used to symbolize complete and utter loyalty. In other words, ‘blood of my blood’ means family.
Let’s face it. We all want to feel a connection with the people that came before us. What was their life like? What did they do for a living? When did they get married? How many children did they have? Where did they live? How did they cope with what was going on in the world at the time? I could go on and on. For me, and I’m guessing for most of us, the question really is: how are we alike?
In this article by Dierdre Foley Mendelsson, Why are Americans Mad about Geneology?, she explores the phenomenon. Behind gardening, researching genealogy has become one of the top American at-home hobbies. Why? “We’re a massive, mobile nation, a nation of immigrants and assimilants, still lacking a robust sense of history, and if nothing else the surprise of six degrees of separation makes us feel less alone.” Her explanation does make sense.
Researching our genealogical line is a modern privilege. Technology like Ancestry.com makes it SO much easier than ever before to find our ancestors through real, true evidence. The site offers hints and these hints can be added to your family tree if found accurate. Hints can be documents like birth records, death records, newspaper clippings, censuses, pictures, and links to other member’s trees that have similar information that can help solidify that hunch that you are, in fact, related to a certain individual and even resemble them in a certain way.
Hints aren’t the only way you can find your blood-riders on the site. Ancestry.com offers DNA tests. I know this is old news (I’ve seen the commercials, too), but as someone who’s had the opportunity to test three of my close family members DNA (my Dad and both of my grandparents on my Mom’s side), I can attest to the reliability of the tests. The DNA also links you to others (distant relatives) on the site that have made their results visible, which allows you to confirm or deny any assumptions you could have about your biological link to some of the ancestors in your tree.
Most recently, my Dad’s DNA was updated as a result of a mass influx of more samples due to the site’s success. More samples = more accuracy. His DNA report changed dramatically as a result, and oui oui, he was more French than we originally thought! This DNA aligned with the research we’d done up his family tree, so I knew I could trust its accuracy.
Even the names we choose to name our children may hold more significance than thought previously. For instance, I was named after my great-grandmother Amelia on my Mom’s side. After doing some research on my Dad’s, I discovered another Amelia, my great-great-grandmother Sarah’s sister.
I also indulge in the PBS show Finding Your Roots (with Henry Louis Gates Jr.). I told you I was obsessed. The show follows well-known celebrities as they unearth their familial histories and even debunk some of their long-held beliefs about their heritage. The host Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University professor, accomplished filmmaker and journalist, and his web of connections within the historical academic community analyze DNA and historical records of ancestors of notable names like Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey, Larry David, and my favorite lawmaker of the great state of Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others.
It’s good TV. If you’re anything like me, a ride-or-die fan of Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files, 48 Hours Mystery, (or just good ol’ Snapped on Oxygen), you love a mystery. I love the drama of it all. Incredible lineage is discovered, long-held secrets are unearthed, and even seemingly bad revelations in the series are given new light which somehow leads each episode ending on an uplifting note.
If I’ve learned anything from my own research and this show, it’s this. Researching heritage can be a lot to emotionally process. It’s important to remember that these people (your people) were just that: people. They were dealt their cards just like we were dealt ours. And we may be blood-related, but we are not our ancestors. We have the chance to not be like the worst of ’em, but be like the best of ’em.