Sunday, January 1, 2017
Who are your relatives?
One interesting aspect of having virtually unlimited, online family trees is that our "circle" of relatives extends almost automatically and underscores the basic fact that we are ultimately cousins with every person who presently lives on the earth. Of course, this statement assumes a common genetic origin, which fact is relatively well accepted by the scientific community. When we have this perspective, artificial cultural and racial distinctions melt away and we become part of one big human family.
In addition, with the phenomenal increase in the ability to communicate to individuals around the world, we can expect interaction with this increasing pool of relatives. However, how do we define our relatives? Who do we really feel "related" to? How many relatives can we reasonably relate to? All of these issues begin to create challenges to our traditional method of categorizing our familial relationships.
Consanguinity is one of the most pervasive creators of familial relationships. But in many cases, our personal history dictates who we interact with as "family." There are those who have "no family" or think that this is their situation. These are sometimes the orphans and foundlings. But today, through extensive DNA testing and matching on the huge, online genealogy programs, these previous barriers to familial identity can possibly be resolved. I am starting to hear stories of people finding their birth parents, siblings and cousins when all other searching methods have failed.
There are other reasons why we are "cut off" from family interaction. I have grappled with my own family relationships over the years. I had little or no contact with any Tanner family members and very limited contact with any other individuals in any other of my own family lines. Since my marriage, I have had a significantly greater relationship with my wife's family than my own. It is also interesting that my wife has extensive contact with distant relatives sharing genealogical information, while my own family seems to have no extensive genealogical interest at all.
Most of us recognize family relationships through the sharing of a common ancestor. In my case, and as is the experience of many others, I have one or two prominent ancestors. It is common for me to meet someone who shares a bloodline relationship with me connected to my Great-great-great-grandfather, John Tanner. What is interesting is that I have yet to meet anyone who claims to be a cousin descended from my 4th Great-grandfather, John's father Joshua Tanner. There are other distant ancestors that also seem to form a "descendency relationship group" such as my ancestors Samuel Linton, George Jarvis and James Parkinson. In my case, these particular ancestors are remembered because either they or their children joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of us have a similar relationship to the descendants of another individual singled out for some other reason.
In the case of descendants of John Tanner, the question of relationship arises simply because of our custom of preserving a particular family line through the adoption of a common surname. But the fact that a person shares this or some other, common ancestor does not create any sense of family nor does it usually produce any additional contact or interaction. There is one notable exception in my own family. The descendants of my Great-great-grandfather, Samuel Linton form a cohesive group and we have attended some very memorable family gatherings in the form of "family reunions." Some of these relatives have actually become my friends.
Our particular cultural background will often determine the extent to which we have social interaction with our extended family. Some of us identify with a "hometown" and visit the ancestral home regularly. I have friends who return to their ancestral hometown every year for a visit and some spend the entire summer, as I did as a child, in the town of their parents' origin.
Now, as genealogists, these family relationships become the basis for our interest in and continued participation in seeking out our families. I often find that genealogical researchers focus their primary efforts on a particular branch of their family, often corresponding to their birth surname. Even before DNA testing was even possible, genealogists were focused on "bloodlines" and "real" relationships. Now, the identification of our "real" ancestry has become more of a reality and sometimes the information is less than welcome.
Perhaps, as we expand our genealogical horizons through online family trees and DNA testing, we will begin to recognize that we are all more or less interrelated?