Geneaology and family values: A tonic for American restlessness?


Thomas Lynch
mericans are a restless people. French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville noticed it when he traveled the country in the 1830s. Others have observed it since.

Poet-essayist-mortician (yes, you read that right) Thomas Lynch talks and writes a lot about our rootlessness. It’s one reason why the rate of cremation is rising across the U.S., especially on the West Coast. Our families aren’t rooted in one place long enough to establish traditional family plots at cemeteries, Lynch says. (That’s Tom above. You can learn more about this award-winning author and speaker here.)


Perhaps a function of genealogy is to quell restlessness—a way to set down roots and understand one’s place in the world. The narrative of “one’s own becoming” offers stability in the face of rootlessness. (Scroll down to see early posts this weeks about the reasons people explore genealogy.)

Technology and scientific breakthroughs aid and abet genealogy. And time. Online family research is the one activity that wired seniors (65+) do more than any other age group, according to a Pew survey of online users.

In case you’re interested, Brooke Shield’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are” airs tonight on NBC. According to the preview, she’ll discover her ties to self-made aristocrats in Italy and legendary royalty in France.

And some trivia I couldn’t resist telling you: Did you know that George Stephanopoulos and Hillary Clinton are distant cousins? DNA research showed that.

But then again, DNA research conducted around the world by National Geographic shows that we are all related—and if you go back far enough, we are all Africans.


Before we leave this topic, tell us about your experiences with family research. What did you learn? Was it comforting or not? 


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