“A child doesn’t belong to the mother or father; a child belongs to his ancestors.” –African Proverb
There’s nothing more interesting than lineage, heritage, ancestry, and, of course, famous families throughout history. A family tree with many branches is, at once, fascinating and poignant, too. This is why genealogy is now a part of the zeitgeist. With the rise of Ancestry.com and shows on PBS like “Finding Your Roots” (probably one of the smartest television shows being produced right now), something as vital as ancestry—our past histories—is now mainstream.
In praise of keeping old documents, scrapbooks, recording history, and archiving all those memories, we’ll discuss some ways ancestry is more than just a hobby and how you can get involved and discover more.
There’s nothing more important than family, history, and where we come from. We’ve all heard the stories of adoptive children reconnecting with their birth families and receiving some sort of closure or, rather, the opposite.
Connecting With and Paying Homage to the Ancestors
“No man can outwit the ancestors.” –African Proverb
Certain Native Americans believe that butterflies are the spirits of our ancestors. There are various honored traditions and rituals that people have participated in for thousands of years that are sacred and can illuminate the past, such as taking Ayahuasca (a ceremonial medicine from South America used mainly among Indigenous Amazonian peoples). Peyote is also used as a religious sacrament by Native Americans and has been for thousands of years.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
‘In one of the early pages of “Roots,” Alex Haley describes the ancient ceremony in which one of his African ancestors was named. The father took the infant in his arms, held it up before a gathering of villagers, and whispered in its ear the name he had chosen for it. Only then was the name announced to everyone else, for it was the belief among those people “that each human being should be the first to know who he was.”’
Other illuminating books to read if you’re interested in genealogy (and Alex Haley’s 1976 “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” is one of the very best) include Toni Morrison’s 1998 “Paradise,” “The Milkman’s Son: A Memoir of Family History, a DNA Mystery, a Story of Paternal Love” by Randy Lindsay (2020) and “Ancestors: Who We Are and Where We Come From” by David Hertzel (2017).
The Most Famous Families
“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” –Chinese Proverb
Some people cannot trace back very far; because of slavery, many African Americans have no idea exactly where their ancestors are descended. This is a travesty but in order not to repeat history, we must learn from it and never forget it.
We’ve all heard of famous, wealthy families like the Vanderbilts and Rothschilds, but what about a family as old as the Maccabees—who flourished in the 2nd century BCE in Palestine? “They were a priestly family of Jews who organized a successful rebellion against the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV and re-consecrated the defiled Temple of Jerusalem.”
Some other impressive lineages and dynasties include:
- The Fujiwara Family or “Clan” prospered and dominated the Japanese Imperial government from the 9th until the 12th century.
- The Ming Dynasty “ruled China from 1368 to 1644 A.D., during which China’s population would double.”
- The Mamluks “ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 until 1517, when their dynasty was extinguished by the Ottomans” and are known as the “slave-warriors of medieval Islam overthrew their masters, defeated the Mongols and the Crusaders and established a dynasty that lasted 300 years.”
- Did you know that one in ten men are descendants of Genghis Khan? The first “Great Khan of the Mongol Empire” (he has been dead since 1227) is said to have impregnated over 1,000 women, and one in 200 men are his direct descendants!
More Than A Hobby: A Rite of Passage
Did you know that the study of genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States? Phrases like “identity crisis” have found all new meaning because, since the age of the Internet, people have flocked to its web pages for information on where they came from. “Finding yourself” has taken on all new meaning. Ancestry is a billion-dollar industry that has even come up with genetic test kits where one can use a swab to collect DNA, send it off to a lab, and discover just exactly where in the world they’re from.
“Every day of your life is a page of your history.” –Arabian Proverb
Keep records. Film videos, take photos, preserve bits of loved ones’ handwriting and, of course, hold on to heirlooms. When we lose loved ones, it’s best to preserve their memory, our memories of them, and, if we’re lucky, we can see them in the eyes of our children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and cousins. If you think of it this way: we never really lose people: they live on through the ages, through the family.
For more information on genealogy and famous historical dynasties mentioned in this blog, check out the links below: