Family History - Merck does the assignment
First some advice about your attitudes:
- Grasp the assignment: You are not trying to figure out where most of your ancestors are from. That's actually boring. You are trying to figure out where ANY of them might reasonably be from.
- It's probably not as simple as you think: As a kid, I was told to tell people that my ancestors were German, because my surname is. Many people just leave it there, but there are huge problems:
- My mom's ancestors were British
- Nations aren't surrounded by high fences. Maybe way back there one of my German ancestors had a Dutch or Polish lover.
- Nations aren't eternal. Go back far enough in the land of my dad's ancestors, and there was no such thing as a "German."
- Don't be squeamish: We simply have no idea what it was like to live in a pre-industrial society where:
- Most people worked very hard at crushingly boring jobs.
- The threat of sudden death (from disease, starvation, crime, or war) hung constantly over people's heads, life expectancy was low, and major decisions were made by people who, by our standards, were very young.
- Novelty and entertainment were rare, and the major pass time was seducing one's neighbors. (Read the Canterbury Tales and consider the origin of traditional Christian wedding announcements.)
- Slavery was commonplace and usually had a sexual element. (Read Ibn Fadhlan's travel narrative.)
- Don't be judgmental:
- However evil or disgusting, if any of our ancestors weren't in the right place at the right time, we wouldn't be here.
- You will probably find that at some point you probably have ancestors from some nationality you despise. That's life, and you owe your life to them.
- Don't give up:
- Doing this project will require some digging. We've done a lot for you already. Actually research this info. Remember that the farther back you go, the more branches you will be tracing.
- If you really don't have much information, take advantage of what you do have.
Simple rules for historical speculation:
Now, Merck's project.
- Rule 1. Be reasonable. E.g., if your ancestry is English but your English forebears have a surname of
French origin, like "d'Urbiville" or "Beaumont," then it is reasonable to speculate that some of your
ancestors were French-speakers who came to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror,
because this is the historical origin of most of England's French-surnamed aristocracy (themselves of both
French and Norse descent). It would NOT be reasonable to speculate without evidence that they were
descended from disinherited members of the Japanese royal family.
- Rule 2. Most people are sedentary If your ancestors lived in a particular place at one time, assume that at least some of their ancestors lived
there at previous times. E.g., just because some of your ancestors came to England with William the
Conqueror doesn't mean they all did. Most likely, they came and had children with local people. So, if your
ancestors were English aristocrats in 1490, you would assume that their ancestors were in both Normandy and
England in 1000.
- Rule 3. The rich and powerful travel. Aristocratic classes often come from conquerors that move into a region. If you have any reason to
think that some of your ancestors were aristocrats of foreign origin, assume that their ancestors came from
their country of origin. E.g., if your ancestors were Mexican aristocrats in 1800, you would speculate that
at least some of their ancestors had been living in Spain in 1490.
- Rule 4. Peasants stay put. Non-aristocrats are less likely to travel widely. Unless you have definite information to the
contrary, assume that if your ancestors of humble origin were in a specific place, their ancestors were in more or less the same place at earlier times. E.g., if your ancestors were farmers in Ireland in 1800, it's a
good bet that their ancestors also were in 1490.
- Rule 5. Nomads travel widely. Some nations are adept at pulling up stakes and moving long distances. Like all humans, they have children both within their group and with people they meet along the way. This applies equally regardless of whether they move in peacefully (E.G. the Fulanis of West Africa) or arrive as conquerors (E.G. the Huns.)
- Rule 6. Empires promote travel and commerce Cosmopolitan empires like the Roman Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, or Han
Dynasty China, by enabling people safely to travel long distances, became ethnic melting pots, full of traveling traders, deployed soldiers, and slaves being shipped
from all quarters - all of them sharing genes right and left. If your ancestors came from one of these
empires, you must assume that their ancestors could have come from anywhere within it, regardless of their
social class. E.g., if your ancestors lived in Central Italy in 1000, then their ancestors could well have lived
ANYWHERE in or near the Roman Empire in the year 1.
- Rule 7. Some gene-flow barriers work better than others. If you come from a group that has traditionally avoided marriage with outsiders, assume that your
ancestors respected this rule during the times when it was in force unless you have positive evidence to the
contrary. E.g., if your ancestors were Jewish in 1800, it's likely that they were Jewish in 1490. Be careful,
though. Rules change. The Jewish regulation tracing descent through the mother wasn't in effect in the
year 1. If your ancestors were all Jewish in 1000, it doesn't follow that they all were in the year 1.
- Rule 8. Names have power. Pay attention to the etymology of your ancestor's surnames. E.g., if your family is from India, but
some ancestors have a Portuguese surname, then probably some of your ancestors were Portuguese.
- Rule 9.Don't ignore the evidence of your senses. E.g., if your ethnic background is Gypsy, but your
physical features are Northern European, you should assume that some of your ancestors were Northern
European non-Gypsies, despite what your family may tell you.