My Cousin Is Me: Why We All Are Looking For Our Ancestors Today


By Nancy Vicknair
August 1, 2013
Turlock, CA, USA
Nancy Vicknair is a researcher and arts publicist who dabbles in genealogy from time to time when her cats are not begging for food. You can find her on her blog or in her bed. Email her with questions to nancydesk at yahoo..com
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 UPDATE SEPTEMBER

 Before spending money try uploading your Ancestry raw DNA to GedMatch. As for the tests, Ancestry and FTDNA use the exact same array/ test kit; 23 and Me uses a different one by the same mfr but uses the same locations for the genealogy. I have a 40 plus year background in genetics and do not think DIY medical genetics testing is a good idea at the level of (mis)understanding most testees have of any genetics testing. This is part of why I like Ancestry's cut to the chase approach. Besides accessible trees, Ancestry's database is now twice that of FTDNA; I do like FTDNA for Y or mt testing. But, if you are a genealogist doing this for genealogy, do Ancestry. And, the ethnicity algorithms are way over emphasized, they are theoretical constructs, they are not factual, so I'd ignore those in choosing a testing company. In fact I did ignore them. When someone say " such or such is "best" , ask them why. You are not going to find people who have found definable matches tree to tree at any better rate than you will see with testing at Ancestry. Simple, straightforward, tree matching, can be uploaded for more advanced analysis to GedMatch for free now that Ancestry provides raw data.

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There is an Internet stampede going on. No, it is not porn, nor gambling. It is genealogy! Millions of people worldwide have joined others looking for their ancestors. Ancestry.com has become the go-to site for these new happy hunters. After signing up, literally anyone who can read and type, can start to plot out a personal detailed family tree utilizing ancestry.com's vast resources.When I last looked, ancestry.com had more than 2 billion family trees on its site.


Check out too all the genealogy pages on facebook where fellow researchers discuss current finds unearthed on ancestry.com and culled from other places. Peruse these lengthy threads where one person posts a current dead end in their search for missing data about a relative. Soon other helpful amateur sleuth-genealogists chime in and volunteer to do the research for their facebook buddy. Without doing a big survey, one can quickly see that females outnumber men by about 10 to 1 on these pages. A lot of bickering can be started by a too eager, or more knowledgeable, mother hen which can be quite hilarious to read. Some facebook threads go on for weeks and most are quite useful to those unschooled in basic research techniques. The posts can also be helpful to relatives looking for other relatives. Find-A-Grave is another important resource, as is the local town library. Graveyard visiting is for everyone now too, no longer relegated to vampires.


For the newly serious genealogist, there is another new way to spend hobby money besides buying a scanner, acid-free files, new eyeglasses, or registrations at pay-to-research sites. DNA!  These mail in DNA kits and their results are sketchy at best and scams at worst. Why, a poster laments, does she have Irish DNA when she thought she was Swedish because she is blond with blue eyes? Why is her brother not sharing the same ancestry and could he be adopted? Or worse, did her brother have a different father? The never-ending elusive mystery.


Hiding among this frenetic digging for family roots are much bigger underlying existential issues--where we did we come from, who exactly are we and why.  Personally, I suffer from the used-to-be-very-wealthy syndrome and cannot figure out why I am a failure at making gobs of money with fame eluding me, when it seemed to have been so effortless for my colonial ancestors. My puritan grandparents had the best education, made huge fortunes, had perfect marriages and even became elected officials or wealthy merchants. Why am I such a loser by comparison? I know I feel a whole lot better when I find out I am related to all British royalty and all past American presidents.


We may fear we have no control over life's events and mysteries today. If I cannot brag about my own laurels, then I can brag about my ancestors. And, with my crinkly parchment family trees in hand as concrete evidence, I am never questioned. If I boldly announce that my cousins Aaron and Matthias Ogden were best friends with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who would dare question me? Even if this is true. And, it is definitely true. I now have a safe one-upmanship factoid I can throw out on the cocktail table during a lull in any conversation. Never fear, Nancy's relatives are always near.


Currently family detectives are paying for DNA tests to be done so they can find where their ancestry comes from by using an exact 'scientific' method.  I guess primary sources, censuses, gravestones, and the American government are not enough. Science has to step in and save the day. At last the past can be solved. I can have the real evidence that I am related to all royalty. Just pop my bodily sample in the mail and soon my true scientific evidence will be sent back to me. Better than the Princess and  the pea test.



Now new threads are appearing on facebook genealogy pages daily about the interpretation of newly received DNA results. One hunter could not figure out why she had Eastern European in her DNA, since she wasn't Jewish (that she knew). Others are under the impression that they might have had a different father. And so on ad infinitum. Most soon discover DNA only opens a door to more possibilities--and different ones--instead of finally uncovering that ever elusive golden factoid thus sealing Pandora's box.

Lizzie Borden

Just look through the posts on facebook about ancestry and you can see how happy posters are when they find out a cousin was killed in the civil war, was a famous criminal, or was royalty. To be related to Lizzie Borden is popular indeed-everyone wants to be related to her. Related to Harriet Beecher Stowe? That's nice, dear, but isn't it cool that I am Lizzie's cousin? Everyone brags about royal blood too, but that is de rigeur. My mom, who had inherited her family tree, done in dark ages of 1902, always told me that so  many of her friends claimed to have had family members come over on the Mayflower, that the little Mayflower would have sunk taking thousands of passengers with her!



There often is a poignancy to the threads written by these new genealogists I find fascinating. A lot are baby boomers like me rushing toward the end of their lives and want to tie up loose ends in their background. Others can have just heart-breaking tales. Broken English writings by a new poster beg to locate a lost biological mother who abandoned her years ago. I remember this poster so vividly. She was looking for her mom desperately and had a sorry history to relate. A kind facebook friend did tons of research for her and told this girl to message her because she had found her mom who had died years before -- after remarrying and having more kids. The kicker was that this girl looking for her mom commented that she thought her mom had died so young because maybe she had the same rare genetic disease this girl has. So sad. Facebook posts can at times vary from a proud giddiness to a Titanic sinking. No wonder no one was watching soap operas. Our ancestry is our new soap opera.


It is almost afternoon and I should go right now and log onto ancestry.com and search for that one exciting glittering kernel of ancestral truth I know must be there, somewhere buried deep in my family tree. I am looking for the key to my past, our past. Onward, Don Quixote. Ironically, the more research we do, the less we need to psychologically. Soon we reach that golden eureka moment when we discover are all related. A comforting thought. I am not alone hung out to dry on a bare dead family tree. Right, cousin?

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