Family Trees

A Universal Practice
For thousands of years, people have been fascinated with their family trees. It is part of human nature to be curious about our heritage: Where did we come from? Who were the people who came before us? What did they accomplish, and what legacy did they leave? How are we similar to them today? These are the kinds of questions that drive people to research and preserve their family trees.

The practice of keeping family trees is deeply rooted in history; among the world's oldest are Chinese family and clan histories, many of which date back to the Shang dynasty, circa 1500 B.C. Not only did these family histories record the names and relationships of clan members, they also recorded their achievements, military and otherwise. Today, the Chinese still deeply venerate their ancestors; some even pray to their spirits for guidance.

The Inca Empire
The Incas are best-known for their fantastic Andean cities and far-reaching empire, but one of the most remarkable things about their civilization was its record-keeping. The Inca lacked a written language; they recorded everything using an intricate system of knots and cords called quipu. Astonishingly, along with business transactions, family accounts, and astronomical observations, artifact analysts have discovered family trees recorded in using the quipu system.

The practice of keeping family trees has a European background as well. After Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista and drove the remaining Moors out of Spain in 1492, Spaniards became obsessed with limpieza de sangre, or purity of blood. The Inquisition only heightened this obsession. Everyone wanted to prove that they were of "Old Christian" blood and not a "Moorish heretic." Nearly every document drawn up during this time period-whether an application for a military post of a marriage contract-includes some kind of statement about one's ancestors, often with an accompanying pedigree diagram. Indeed, this extreme emphasis on ancestry became typical of all Europe, not just Spain.

Today, many of us share with these historical societies a fascination for our family trees and a desire to research, preserve, and share them.

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