Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Genealogies can be more than Social Constructs

I've just become aware of what sounds like an interesting book: Eviatar Zerubavel, Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity and Community. A Boston Globe review states that the Rutger sociologist "pulls back the curtain on the genealogical obsession."

I haven't seen the book, so I don't know how accurate the reviewer's description is. According to the review, Zerubavel objects that genealogists create pleasing genealogies by choosing which ancestral lines to follow (and which to ignore)and by cutting and pasting from other similarly biased genealogies. As anyone who has read Greenwood, Akenson,or Mills, or who has attended IGHR or studied the Genealogical Proof Standard knows, the curtain was pulled back a long time ago.

Yes, it is easy to produce biased and family histories. We do choose which ancestors to follow. Historians, sociologists and other researchers also choose where to focus their attention. A degree of bias is unavoidable, but an effort at neutrality is possible. This is why we promote standards and train genealogists to be disciplined researchers and analysts.

Finally, according to the review, Zerubavel asks: do we really care about our distant ancestors? No, not in the same way that we care about our living siblings and parents. But, we can find our ancestors very interesting. Do historians really care about the Roman Empire? I don't know, but I would bet they find it interesting, and that they believe that studying and understanding it has some value for us today.

Don't feel guilty about your obsession with genealogy!

Thanks to Harold Henderson for making me aware of this book. Harold's comment on Christy Fillerup's Facebook post led me to the Boston Globe review. Now, I need to lay my hands on a copy of Zerubavel's book.