Back in the day, commoners would from time to time approach the lord of the manor and “claim kin”, hoping to reap some of the benefits of those that lived “inside the walls”. Needless to say, those living inside the walls were very comfy and pretty skeptical. It usually took very good data, a lot of money, or a big @#$% army to convince people you were legit. For example William the Conqueror started out as William the Bastard, until he set matters straight in 1066 at the point of a spear.
These days we can prove more with data.
First is the growing power of ancestral research because of the web (and the Mormons, thanks for the hard work!). I’ve spent some time on Ancestry.com in the past year poking around my family history. We have a lot of legends that have been passed down through the years, but not a lot of it based on verifiable facts. Thanks to web 2.0, I have now traced Spencer males back to 1728 with birth and death records, census data, and Sons of the American Revolution documents and guess what: the family actually did a good job of remembering the lineage without writing much of it down. My great grandfather did have 24 kids. He did have his last when he was 74 years old. And he did have a wife ~40 years his junior. Apparently, with his spare time he ran a farm in Central Pennsylvania. His great grandfather a Joseph Sr. may have fought for the winners in the Revolutionary War (still confirming). And his ancestors came from England. (More to come after the DNA is complete).
Second is the power of social networks to access additional, related facts nearly instantaneously. My dad, aka Big Art, and I had spent the previous 5+ years trying to piece together rumors, family legends, a bit of travel to the continent in an effort to verify anything about our heritage. The we logged on to Ancestry and used the other trees to quickly piece together draft documents, immigration papers, and baptism records we had not otherwise found. suddenly, our knowledge was no longer in a silo.
Third is the burgeoning business of DNA. 23andME tipped off a fascinating journey in mapping the human genome. With the simple swab of a cheek, I will be able to confirm not only who we are related to, but also what anomalies I may be exposed to. Sergey Brin of Google realized he prone to Parkinsons by mapping his DNA this way. I can’t imagine what I am prone to. But with the results, there is likely undeniable truth to my ancestral claims, whatever that might be.
But perhaps the biggest point for me is this: like it or not, we eventually become our fathers, more or less. That is perhaps why I have been so fascinated with the Visualize Health/SelfAwareness project, where connected devices inform us of the health and wellness trends of ourselves and our loved ones. Through the power of Web 2.0, Social networks, and DNA we can all know what our baseline data is, as well as the trend. It’s up to us where to go with it.