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Genealogy’s Renaissance

This undated image provided by Ancestry.com shows a family tree made on the genealogy website Ancestry.com which agreed to be acquired by a group led by European private equity firm Permira Funds in a cash deal valued at about $1.6 billion on Monday, Oct . 22, 2012. (AP)

This undated image provided by Ancestry.com shows a family tree made on the genealogy website Ancestry.com which agreed to be acquired by a group led by European private equity firm Permira Funds in a cash deal valued at about $1.6 billion on Monday, Oct . 22, 2012. (AP)

In the past few years, genealogy — like so many fields — has undergone a tech boom. There are television shows, online databases, and DNA tests, have transformed the once quaint pastime of searching through dusty old documents. That’s one of the reasons why a recent article on The Verge, an online tech, science and culture site, really caught our eye. In it writer Laura June claims that Data and DNA will eventually make the question “where did I come from” instantly solvable. Or as June writes, “The eternal search for our ancestors is coming to an end.”

It’s an interesting, thought provoking claim, especially to New England ears, as we live in a part of the country that not only has some of the best historical record keeping anywhere, but is also home to the oldest and largest genealogical society in the nation.


David Lambert, chief of genealogy at the New England Historical Genealogy Society.

Steve Brown, WBUR reporter and amateur genealogist.


The Verge “Genealogy’s next phase, which is quickly approaching, is actually its end game. The massive accumulation, digitization, and accessibility of data combined with recent advances in DNA testing mean the questions we have about our families — who they were, how they got here, and how they’re related to us — will soon be instantly solvable. Realistically, the pursuit of family history as it exists now probably won’t be around in 20 years: most of the mysteries are disappearing, and fast.”

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  • TheIndependenceParty

    I am our family’s de facto genealogist, and have been for almost 20 years. The connections between the people in our tree have become increasingly easy to draw and verify, though there are several “brick walls” left to scale, even in fairly recent generations.

    But when the search for the names runs its course, the search for the stories behind them has only begun. My sights are on the Boston and New Haven areas, where three fourths of my family’s roots were first placed on this continent. Learning who those people were and what they did while they were here, has always been the goal for me to discover. Now we can begin that quest. 

  • Ancestralmanor

    Despite more readily accessible sources, the quality of the sources and the information found must be analyzed to meet the evidence tests of The Genealogical Proof  Standard http://bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html

  • http://www.notablecharacters.wordpress.com/ Dplugh

    Determining the lineage is only half the challenge.  The most interesting part is HISTORY and who they were…how they lived and what was going on at the time.  Anyone who is in it for the statistics only is really missing the best part.  It’s a good thing that Stephen Hawkins didn’t consider his work complete at 2 + 2 = 4.   There is a bigger world….

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joanie-Gentian/610374005 Joanie Gentian

    Before the “author” of my favorite genealogy site  (wargsdotcom), William Addams Reitwiesner, died in 2010, he spent his life researching the genealogies of presidents and other political figures in the Library of Congress, where he worked pushing books around.

    I have found I have 3 cousin presidents, and at least one vice president and first lady (Bushes, Roosevelts, Rockefellers all via 1600′s New Amsterdam) by looking through his research and comparing it with my own. I was hoping he’d get farther back in PM David Cameron’s Cameron line to confirm my tentative identification of another cousin there, when I heard that Reitwiesner died.  Stymied by fate.

     Somehow I do not believe that DNA testing will ever replace the dedicated book and document research that people like this man did.  Just sayin.

  • Wahoo_wa

    In order for my grandmother to marry her first husband she was required to provide the birth certificate, death certificate and confirmation certificate for several generations (I think 5…I’ll have to check the document).  She married an honor guard in the German Army during the second world war.  It’s a wonderful document albeit from an unfortunate aspect of Germany’s ruling party at the time.

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    A DNA test might tell me who I got my green eyes and lupus from. But I needed the archives to tell me that I am a descendent of someone who fought in and died during the Civil War.  Sadly, I have no way of knowing what color his eyes were. 

    • mmmmikkimac

      on ‘some’ records on the enlistment it lists color of eyes, hair, height and complexion 

    • Darmitage1

      If you can get his war records they may tell his coloring and size– ht., wt., etc. The cost has gon up in recent years but they are still sorth it.

  • Norstreads

    I always look at original documents because sometimes there are spelling mistakes. I once thought my ancestor was a Dunham but actually she was a Dunbar. The transcriber had made a mistake.

  • David Palmer

    Re; The Verge post: This presupposes that the entire population will use genealogical DNA testing.  They won’t.  Only a small fraction ever will.  This presupposes that complete records exist somewhere waiting to be digitized.  For the most part, they do not.  The genealogical problems I  faced 40 years are by and large the same ones I face now.  There is hope, but not on the scale, quantitatively or chronologically, suggested by this post.

  • Ivan Benedict

    I did the swab, which confirmed my male line with the Benedict name.  The science has revealed an origin in the Caucusus.  DNA shows that a man in Istanbul, not a benedict, has our DNA.  This is interesting, but only on a global scale.  The details are another matter.  I have reasonable research that gets me back to Benedicts in England in the 1450′s.  But Benedict is just one of my
    family lines.  My mother’s father’s mother’s family is not available by DNA – not yet anyway.  That takes plain old research.

  • mmmmikkimac

    While I would like to know where I genetically relate to a specific area, looking through records will always be needed to confirm each generation.

  • Chrislnordstrom

    As long as there are human beings with skeletons to rattle, there will be family mysteries to solve. Genealogy research is evolving, but, if anything it is expanding. People are delving deeper into their roots, going backwards in time.

  • Holly Penfield

    my friends comment alot about my family having the “royal bleeding disorder”. My sisters and I are carriers of Hemophilia A, which is connected to Queen Victoria as well as Czar Nichols. I have always wondered but my family never had talked about it. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/GermanGenealogist Karl-Michael Sala

    Yes!  As was indicated by one of the callers, THE resource that must needs be tapped NOW is THE LIVING! Then, the RECORDS are crucial.  DNA is the least important in finding out about great-grandparents. While others are speculating about European ancestors, we find them. –Karl-Michael Sala, The German Genealogist


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