Noticing the recent surge in the interest and marketing of genealogy – begat by Boomers and nourished by accessible technology – it seems that looking back, way back, is big business.
Leading the way, Ancestry.com has carved a niche for itself in root-tracing pursuits. And in the wake of NBC’s three-season run of “Who Do You Think You Are?” more adventures in ancestry can be found in the new PBS series “Faces of America.”
I want to invent a term to describe this trend – Docutainment? HistoReality?
Professor Henry Louis Gates, who is serious as a cat and tight as a new shoe, hosts “Faces of America,” which allows us to hike the DNA trail of the renowned, from author Malcolm Gladwell to actress Eva Longoria. Gates has more degrees than a thermometer and I doubt the Harvard scholar suffers fools, so if he told me I was the spawn of Martian shipmates crossing the galaxy, I’d just say, “Yes, sir!” and nod.
My friend Ann Stewart, who can trace her family all the way back to Charlemagne, has been passionate about ancestry since childhood. A proud and vital octogenarian, she disdains people who have never climbed into their family tree. “How could they not want to know?” she puzzled at a recent gathering.
Thanks to the media, folks want to know more about notable citizens, but what if your whole genome sequencing never met the red carpet of our fame-worshiping culture?
My two siblings and I are the byproducts of suburbia with a lick of country cookin’ and a hint of the foothills from our parents. We knew the difference between a can of Green Giant veggies and a Ball jar of green beans. We had plumbing, yet knew the value of an outhouse. And central heating did not smell as cozy as a wood-burning stove.
We spent time with our grandparents, Tullie and Loren, Solly and Lula. My mom’s grandfather was a miller up on Crooked Creek in Mt. Vernon. My dad’s ancestors came across from North Carolina in 1770. They made it to Kentucky and I came along seven generations later.
Last year, I received some photos of my great grandfather, John Alcorn, and his young family, circa 1915, in front of their Rockcastle County home.
I gazed upon the clouded images on paper – their lips and boots tightly laced, eyes sweet but stark as they assumed the somber task of staring back at me 90 years later. Back then, photography was years from being an enjoyable event, and the wooden ladder-back chair seemed to contain more joy than the subjects.
I’m making the effort to branch out, if you will, exploring my Flanagan and Alcorn family tree. The art of handing down our stories may be lost – conversations at the supper table or songs by the fire – yet, there’s probably an app for that.
Perhaps in a future genealogy trek, a few faded Polaroids of a knock-kneed, freckle-faced girl on her Schwinn bike, sporting awkward white cat-eye glasses will be dredged up. I would consider myself to be a vintage mid-20th century find!