December 13, 2017

Obsessed with Heritage

family tree
It is not difficult to understand why some people are interested in learning about their family history. While I won't pretend that this is something I've ever had much interest in, I have known a few people who got into the idea of trying to trace their history back as far as they could. For most, it was little more than a temporary hobby. It was something they enjoyed but not the sort of thing that altered their lives in any appreciable way.

I have been seeing a lot of television commercials recently for DNA ancestry services. You know, the sort of thing where you send them a DNA sample, they test it and provide you with a report about your ancestry. From what I can tell, "ancestry" in this context primarily refers to one's ethnic makeup and the regions of the world from which their ancestors most likely originated.

Here's what the most prolific advertiser (AncestryDNA.com) says on their website:
Your AncestryDNA results include information about your ethnicity across 150 regions and identifies potential relatives through DNA matching to others who have taken the AncestryDNA test. Your results are a great starting point for more family history research, and it can also be a way to dig even deeper into the research you've already done.
I suppose I can understand why this might be of interest to someone who is just beginning to research their genealogy, especially if they are doing so late in life, and doesn't know where to start. Still, every time I see one of these commercials featuring people expressing surprise about their ethnicity, I find myself thinking, "Who the hell cares?" What are they going to do with this information?

Suppose I were to use such a service and it was to provide me with a neat pie chart showing the percentage of various "ethnic regions." Why would I possibly care? How would knowing, for example, that I'm 32% Great Britain and 14% Eastern Norway impact my life in any way? I cannot imagine how it would.

This brings me to a larger point about people taking pride in their "heritage." I just don't get it. I played no role in the ethnicity of my ancestors or the regions of the world from which they derived. I had nothing to do with the pigment in their skin. Why would I take pride in any of this? This has never made sense to me. When I encounter someone going on incessantly about their Scandinavian heritage and how they are the "descendant of Vikings," I have to laugh. What does where their distant ancestors lived have to do with them? Nothing.

Maybe I'm completely wrong about this. Maybe there is something genuinely healthy and not at all divisive about taking pride in the ethnicity of one's ancestors or the regions of the world from which they originated. If so, please consider helping me understand it.