What do these seven celebrities have in common: Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmit Smith, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Spike Lee—and Susan Sarandon?
Each one is featured on an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” It’s a series on genealogy and family history co-sponsored by NBC and Ancestry.com. (The first four have aired already. The remaining three will run in April.)
Genealogy has been around a long time, but I trace the contemporary popularity of genealogy to Alex Haley and his search for his African roots. In 1976, he published a best-selling novel about it, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which became a popular miniseries on TV. Experts dispute his research and findings, but that didn’t diminish his influence.
Why do people search their family roots? What does it tell us about family in America?
Religious reasons are a factor for some. For example, genealogy plays a major role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Day Saints. Another example: Some Creationists use Noah’s genealogy in Genesis as evidence that the world is only 5,000 to 7,000 years old.
There are many reasons that people pursue their family histories—and perhaps these motivations might reveal something about family values in America.
Do you care about family history? Have you searched your family tree? What motivated you?