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Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in…

Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America (2013)

by François Weil

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Given its popularity, I've long been surprised that not much attention has been devoted to the history of genealogical research and pursuit. François Weil's Family Trees starts to correct that trend in a meaningful way, offering a scholarly exploration of several key elements and themes of genealogical pursuit in America from the colonial period to the internet age. The book is by no means comprehensive, and there is much more that might have been said, but Weil's thematic and chronological treatment works very well for what it is, and he manages to get to the roots (no pun intended) of a few of the very different ways genealogical research has been used and viewed by Americans since the colonial period.

Aside from a faulty transcription (the "long s" is not an "f"!) that bugged me, I didn't find much to complain about here; I might have stressed different points here and there, but on the whole I found this book quite well done.

Not by any means a breezy read, but certainly an informative and fascinating one. ( )
  JBD1 | May 2, 2014 |
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The 2008 and 2012 presidential elections generated extraordinary interest in Barack and Michelle Obama's genealogies.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674045831, Hardcover)

The quest for roots has been an enduring American preoccupation. Over the centuries, generations have sketched coats of arms, embroidered family trees, established local genealogical societies, and carefully filled in the blanks in their bibles, all in pursuit of self-knowledge and status through kinship ties. This long and varied history of Americans’ search for identity illuminates the story of America itself, according to François Weil, as fixations with social standing, racial purity, and national belonging gave way in the twentieth century to an embrace of diverse ethnicity and heritage.

Seeking out one’s ancestors was a genteel pursuit in the colonial era, when an aristocratic pedigree secured a place in the British Atlantic empire. Genealogy developed into a middle-class diversion in the young republic. But over the next century, knowledge of one’s family background came to represent a quasi-scientific defense of elite “Anglo-Saxons” in a nation transformed by immigration and the emancipation of slaves. By the mid-twentieth century, when a new enthusiasm for cultural diversity took hold, the practice of tracing one’s family tree had become thoroughly democratized and commercialized.

Today, Ancestry.com attracts over two million members with census records and ship manifests, while popular television shows depict celebrities exploring archives and submitting to DNA testing to learn the stories of their forebears. Further advances in genetics promise new insights as Americans continue their restless pursuit of past and place in an ever-changing world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:05 -0400)

Traces the history of genealogy in the United States, from its early preoccupation with social status and lineage, to a nineteenth-century search for Anglo-Saxon roots, to a twentieth-century acceptance of diversity and the introduction of DNA technology.… (more)

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