Family Trees

Family Trees : A History of Genealogy in America

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The quest for roots has been an enduring American preoccupation. Over the centuries, generations have sketched coats of arms, embroidered family trees, established local genealogical societies, and carefully filled in the blanks in their bibles, all in pursuit of self-knowledge and status through kinship ties. This long and varied history of Americans' search for identity illuminates the story of America itself, according to Francois Weil, as fixations with social standing, racial purity, and national belonging gave way in the twentieth century to an embrace of diverse ethnicity and heritage. Seeking out one's ancestors was a genteel pursuit in the colonial era, when an aristocratic pedigree secured a place in the British Atlantic empire. Genealogy developed into a middle-class diversion in the young republic. But over the next century, knowledge of one's family background came to represent a quasi-scientific defense of elite "Anglo-Saxons" in a nation transformed by immigration and the emancipation of slaves. By the mid-twentieth century, when a new enthusiasm for cultural diversity took hold, the practice of tracing one's family tree had become thoroughly democratized and commercialized. Today, attracts over two million members with census records and ship manifests, while popular television shows depict celebrities exploring archives and submitting to DNA testing to learn the stories of their forebears. Further advances in genetics promise new insights as Americans continue their restless pursuit of past and place in an ever-changing world.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 250 pages
  • 142.24 x 210.82 x 30.48mm | 453.59g
  • Cambridge, Mass, United States
  • English
  • 0674045831
  • 9780674045835
  • 1,421,855

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Review quote

For a committed presumably to the rejection of birth and blood, the people of the United States throughout their history have devoted an enormous amount of energy, time, and money to genealogy and the search for ancestors. To explain this anomaly--indeed, to explain how the search for ancestors evolved in different forms over four centuries and eventually became a distinctly American mode of genealogy--is the burden of Francois Weil's well-researched and readable book, "Family Trees." Weil, who is chancellor of the Universities of Paris and professor of history at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, knows America well, but he has sufficient distance to be honest and dispassionate about it. The result is a succinct history of genealogy in a nation that supposedly denies the importance of birth and ancestors.--Gordon S. Wood"New York Review of Books" (05/23/2013)"

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About Francois Weil

Francois Weil is the Chancellor of the Universities of Paris. He is professor of history and a former president of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

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