Nov. 17: Digital Genealogy

Researching a family tree has transformed from a solitary pursuit into a billion dollar online industry. Millions of people now find connections to their past through subscription websites like, and companies have built massive databases of primary sources and genealogies. People also willingly turn over their DNA for analysis. What does this all mean from the perspective of public history? What are the implications of for-profit companies controlling so much information about us? What are benefits or possibilities of doing history with these powerful tools?

A very quick introduction from the Library of Congress.

What does the explosion of online DNA analysis services mean for issues of identity and identification? Read through sections from Keith Wailoo, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee eds, Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012). (on OWL).

“Behind slickly packaged Web sites and DNA kits lurk tacit assumptions about the fixity of status, race, and ethnicity.” Read Maya Jasanoff’s interesting article for the New Yorker about the deeply problematic roots of our present fixation on ancestry.

Genetic data from historic sites can also be a powerful tool for historical research. Explore the work of Patrick Geary on HistoGenes and discover what his team learned about migration in late antiquity/early medieval Europe.

Stepping away from the problems and benefits of genetic testing, what is the relationship between Public History and Family History and Genealogy. In the past, academic historians could be pretty dismissive of this work, but new research is demonstrating the importance of the this work and the skill of family historians.

Read through Tanya Evans’ work on her collaborations family historians and her thoughts on how they work with memory. (Links through Owl.)