Understanding our heritage can tell us a lot about ourselves. Insights into our culture, class, and medical history can be revealed. People have discovered long-lost relatives or answered questions about quirks and personalities that were previously misunderstood. Unfortunately, many families only have limited records on hand. Older generations take stories with them as the pass, and things get forgotten.
However, new technology has made researching your genealogy easier than ever before. Online databases like GenealogyBank family history speed the search process. And, for those who were adopted or have limited information on immediate family members, genetic testing services like 23andMe can link your ancestry to your DNA.
Genealogy reveals a lot more than just who your grandparents are. Searches can reveal fame, fortune, and famine, as well as important health information. There’s also opportunity to contribute towards our larger global understanding by researching and verifying data. You might be surprised at the insight.
Weird Celebrity Connections
Genealogy is so popular now, that there are even successful TV shows searching the background of celebrities. Nearly 87% of Americans say they are interested in learning more about their family history, and the chance we may have some famous connections is always appealing. While there is no guarantee you have an A-lister in your family tree, there have already been some interesting reveals. Barack Obama and Brad Pitt are actually ninth cousins, can you see a resemblance? You might not want to know, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles are ninth cousins too. Richard Nixon and James Dean are more closely related seventh cousins, and their younger pictures are uncanny.
No one wants to that rotting branch on the family tree, but chances are there is more than one jailbird in your mix. Truth be told, crimes of centuries past were often quite different than today. Your family offender may have done no more than stolen a loaf of bread. While unfortunate for them, these arrest records actually assist in tracking our ancient relatives, being written down in more detail than many books at home.
What about more serious crimes? One in five ancestry searches seems to reveal a criminal bombshell. You may find a murderer, sorcerer, or a bigamist in your family’s past. The good news is that what was once considered a hidden family secret, isn’t always a “big deal” by today’s standards.
It’s best to remember that the past doesn’t define you today and look at these arrest records as an insight into behaviors. Why did a certain word act as a trigger for Grandpa? Perhaps your ancestors settled in a certain country to avoid prosecution? Let this new information provide context to your story, adding nuance and detail to the information you already know. And remember, things have changed significantly since we prosecuted people for witchcraft: that sixth great grandpa may have been a really nice person.
Big Data Connections
Online connections combine shared genealogical research, creating big data databases. This extensive well of information can reveal not just our own past, but insights in our global community and the history of humanity. National Geographic initiated a study that documented genetic data from thousands of people worldwide, taking this information back to the Neanderthals. The Smithsonian has also chosen to pursue big data: using genetic testing and family genealogy from modern people of the Caribbean, researchers have developed a more accurate picture of the slave trade. We can now get an idea of what a slave may have looked like, and use that to narrow their specific geographic origins.
Cause of Death, Future Health
Many genetic conditions are inherited, and for those who were adopted or have families that don’t communicate, genetic testing can provide valuable insight to hidden medical issues. Marfan syndrome (MFS), for example, usually produces distinct physical features including extreme height, large hands, and frequent myopia, but it can go undiagnosed. Nine out of 10 people with MFS experience heart issues, including sudden aortic rupture, which can result in death for apparently healthy individuals. Family history has been a powerful indicator of MFS, which in turn has explained the sudden death of family members for some. And MFS is just one of countless hereditary conditions your genealogy search could reveal.
If you can connect old photographs to names, you may be able to use innovative new facial recognition software to predict the likelihood the photographed person suffers from one of 90 genetic abnormalities. Using dozens of identification points, the software scans thousands of known cases to predict genetic anomalies with 93% accuracy.
They say knowledge is power. The power genealogy searches have to fill in the gaps of your life story is tremendous.
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