Ancestry is about heritage and lineage. These words may seem the same but they mean two different things.
Heritage is something that is handed down from the past like a tradition. Heritage involves our culture as a people based on geographical decent and also as a family with the handing down of personal items from one generation to the next. This does a lot to explain why you have three sets of silverware and your grandson is wearing great-great-great grandfather’s bedpan as a hat while he pretends to be Iron Man.
Lineage is more personal, it’s about the bloodline. Whom begot whom, who were your father and mother and who were theirs and so on and so on… Do I come from someone famous? Were my ancestors conquers and heroes? Is there greatness in my bloodline?? Could I be the direct descendant of William Wallace’s bastard son??? These questions are answered by discovering your personal lineage.
Knowing your lineage for some has a health benefit, having the knowledge that you are predisposed to a condition because of your genetic makeup can alter the choices you make in life, but for the majority of us knowing is just idle curiosity. Thanks to the internet that information has become more readily available by using search engines and investing a lot of time, or for a mere few dollars there are companies that will do the leg work for you, they even give you pretty graphics that they will display on your personal page as they discover ‘whom begot you’.
In North America the majority of us are mutts. That’s what happens when immigrants land at the same point of entry at the same time and after a month in the bottom of a crowded steerage compartment, they are all horny!! Our ancestry is so intermingled with others from different parts of the world that we have no real clue where we came from. “I’m part this, that and the other thing and I think a little Italian.” Not really knowing has turned genealogical searching into a big business. Ancestry dot com, dot ca, dot ne, dot gb, dot dot dot, is now big business and in an effort to create additional revenues they now offer DNA testing. That’s right, send your blood or urine or god knows what else to them in the mail and they will test it and send you back a report that will tell you what ‘this, that and the other thing’ are, and confirm you’re a little Italian.
What is the point of all this? Honestly I don’t know. Maybe having a sense of where you came from, your heritage and lineage, give people a feeling of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Maybe they need to have that connection to the past to justify their present, I really don’t know. How does the knowledge of their ancestry change who they are today? If a letter with your DNA results arrives in the mail, are you any less of an asshole after you’ve opened it than you were before? If it turns out that your DNA test say that you are 20% Norwegian are you going to name your next child Lars? At $100 per test, what is the point of this?!!!
The point may be that we all want to have a sense of coming from somewhere. It helps us understand how we got to where we are today and why an antique bedpan is now a superhero helmet. Knowing our genealogical history makes us belong to something exclusive, a specific tree with our surname carved in the trunk. So having the ability to pay hundreds of dollars to an internet company to supply us with that information may not be that big a deal, after all where else are we going to get it?
I’ll tell you where! You, for the most part, have been fed the information your entire life. Every time there was a family gathering the stories have been told. The history passed down from generation to generation around campfires and dining tables. The history of your people is not on the internet but in the tale of great-uncle Nort’s adventures in the Congo where he met great-aunt Zilea and they hooked up and started begetting. The stories of how your grandfather went camping and came back minus his big toe and when your great-great-great grandfather had that bout of chronic diarrhea that almost killed him, this is your lineage. The way you behave in society, the way you celebrate your god (or lack thereof) and the way you respect a time-honored tradition, this is your heritage.
Knowing that I am distantly related to some historical celebrity does nothing to change who I am. Having a small portion of my DNA strand identified as Tibetan doesn’t change my opinion of Buddha. History tells us that mankind has mingled forever, they have migrated by land and sea to faraway lands and when they weren’t warring they were begetting. I’m okay with thinking I have a little of everything in me… my hope is that that little of everything, is its best.