Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world

Ancestry, why is it important?

October 9th, 2010


How many times have you been the doctor and asked about your family’s medical history particularly pertaining to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer?  The study of genetics, especially in the medical field, has highlighted the existence of genetically inherited diseases such as Huntington’s disease and Cystic fibrosis .  Some disorders are more prevalent in particular communities than others such as Sickle Cell which is more common in people of African descent as it originally evolved as defense against malaria.

This issue is so important that the US’s Surgeon General has an initiative to encourage citizens to discover and record their family’s medical history.  Whilst the emphasis is on medical history in this case, knowing the general history of your family may bring other benefits that might include not marrying your cousin or discovering family behavioural traits.

Whilst the UK celebrates Black History Month this month, the US is celebrating Family History Month.  Family History Research aka Genealogy sites across the web have competitions, special offers and other offerings to entice all and one to take up the hobby though the largest, ancestory.com, seems to have ignored it altogether.

Family TreeSome of us have been lucky enough to have known our parents, our aunties and uncles and maybe the grandparents on both sides but many of us don’t.  How many know people know their grandfather’s brother or sister?  In many families, especially older societies, family history is orally transmitted to the new generation but with internal and external migrations and the busy modern lifestyles, this is a dying form of family history recording.

Many people who have done Genealogy will tell you that sometimes the oral history is ‘adjusted’ to hide some of the darker family secrets.  For example, some 30% of US ‘whites’ have ‘black’ or ‘Amerindian’ genes, not a fact many would like to admit.  Many families changed names, religions and country of origin on migrating to other countries, an issue prevalent in the USA families.  Is what you know the truth?

Family history research can be very frustrating.  Many countries did not record births and deaths until relatively recently and in some countries, births in the out-laying areas are not registered.  Census, slave and other records may help but if your ancestors came from places like this, you will do future generations a favour by recording any oral history you may have learnt from the older family folk.

When I came to the UK some 20 years ago, I knew nothing of my father’s side of the family.  Now I know as far back as 1784 and if I solve a little name issue maybe 1680 which is 6 generations back.  I am not sure you have to go that far back but at least 4 generations should do.

And finally, if you do decide to at least research some of your family history, be warned, this can be an additive pastime, after all, Genealogy is within the top 5 non-sporting hobbies in the USA.