CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER

Why Are Americans So Obsessed With Genealogy?

How Studying the Family Tree—Long the Province of Racists and Social Climbers—Became the Country’s Second Most Popular Hobby

Alex Haley, author of the hugely popular 1976 book Roots, once said that black Americans needed their own version of Plymouth Rock, a genesis story that didn’t begin—or end—at slavery. His 900-page American family saga, which reached back to 18th-century Gambia, certainly delivered on that. But it also shared with all Americans the emotional and intellectual rewards that can come with discovering the identity of your ancestors.

No one knew it at the time, but Haley’s bestseller—and the blockbuster television mini-series that aired a year later—were the beginnings of a genealogy …

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