Why You Should Dig Up Your Family’s History — and How to Do It

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By Jaya Saxena / Feb. 3, 2019 / NY Times / Excellent drawing by Sally Deng

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Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.

In America, the question of “Where am I from?” usually means, “Where did my family live before they arrived/were forcibly shipped to America?” Recently, there’s been a push to answer that question through DNA tests — Ancestry.com sold 1.5 million kits on Black Friday in 2017 — which claim they can tell us exactly what percentage Norwegian or Nigerian we are.  But there are catches. ... and they don’t truly reveal our origins so much as reveal who has similar DNA right now.

Also, and perhaps more important: Culture does not come from DNA. It comes from lived experience, traditions and stories passed down, from actual people who shape our perceptions of the world.

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These are more than facts. They’re the myths that are a part of the story of yourself, whether you like them or not. Learning your history is forced reckoning, asking you to consider whose stories you carry with you and which ones you want to carry forward.

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