Why is ancestry so popular?

In recent years, ancestry has become a focus of intrigue for many, with the increased use of at-home ancestry analysis kits and the huge popularity of ancestry shows. More than ever, people are learning about the history of their families, and where they fit into the big picture of humanity’s family tree. 

In 2019, a study showed that more than 26 million consumers took part in at-home DNA tests and predicted that number would reach 100 million in 2021, with additional ancestry companies emerging in that time. But why are we so interested in our lineage?  

As humans, we have an innate connection to our ancestors and strive to care for those who we share our genetics with. This process is called kin selection and is a primal and evolutionary notion that involves preserving genetic lineage to aid with the survival of the species. So, could it be said that we are genetically programmed to be concerned with our ancestors? 

In historian Francois Weil’s book Family Trees, he documents an alternative origin of tracing our ancestry and says that our impulse to seek this information out relates to proof of class and stature. According to Weil via lithub.com, “the idea of establishing one’s family line was associated with the British aristocracy’s obsession with social rank”.  

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the period Weil is referring to, class meant access to better services, resources and a standard of living, so proving that you were of higher regard was important. This diminished over time as class became less of a defining factor, and people also began moving all over the globe, settling and making new families which made it harder to trace family trees.  

Fast forward to today, and genealogy has been made easier due to the ease of access to information. Records are now digitally stored, increasing the ability to trace family lineage at the touch of a button. High-speed indexes and transcripts are available as publicly accessible information, meaning people can do their own research from the comfort of their own homes. This has accelerated the growth of interest in ancestry in parallel with the ease of accessibility to this information.  

An additional reason for the rise in the popularity of genealogy could be down to television programs such as ITV’s ‘Long Lost Family and the BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, which garners around 5.9 million average viewers per episode. In an interview with Wall to Wall, Richard Klein, Director of Factual at ITV, said that shows like Long Lost Family resonate with people from any background, as most people have complicated family stories and these shows “show how important the family is in the hearts of the British people.” Long Lost Family is in its fourth series and features unique stories that are deeply personal, yet we can all identify with them.  

At My Story Told, we help individuals preserve their life stories in their own words. The aim is to produce a family heirloom that will be handed down to generations to come, creating a family treasure that will both preserve your legacy and offer a unique insight into what life was like during your lifetime. 

At the core of what we do is cementing your life story for future generations to enjoy and share.  

The popularity of shows like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has sparked interest in heritage, lineage and discovering the story of our ancestors.  

When uncovering your family history, it is common to find out that there is a gap in your lineage, which can be attributed to a family member being a foundling.  

Foundling is a historic term coined for young children, usually babies that were abandoned at birth, which was more prominent in the 18th and 19th century. Many children were left on church doorsteps, and it’s estimated that one thousand babies were abandoned annually in London during this time. One of the reasons for the rise of foundlings during this period was, at that time, it was considered against the societal norm and religious beliefs to have children out of wedlock.  

This led to the inception of the Foundling Hospital in 1739, where abandoned children would be housed and care for. It was established by Thomas Coram, who campaigned for 17 years until he finally received a Royal Charter from King George II to found it. Coram was appalled by the conditions experienced by some children, and though the city was a global powerhouse of industry and wealth, it was also polluted, disease-ridden and child mortality was soaring. According to coramstory.org.uk, around 31% of children were tragically dying before their first birthday, and half of children before they turned three.  

The Foundling Hospital was designed to care and educate for the vulnerable, and looked after an astounding 25,000 children during its two centuries in operation. The Foundling Hospital has now been transformed into a museum which is accessible to the public.  

When admitted to the Foundling Hospital, the children would have their past wiped from existence, changing their names and any link to their prior family to prevent stigma for both the parents and child, due to being born out of wedlock. Though this is an archaic view, it was normal for the time and meant that for many there is a gap in their ancestral timeline. Some would never come to know of their predecessors, and it is only when people trace their family tree that they discover blood relatives they knew nothing about.  

A fantastic account of this was covered by The Guardian in 2014 titled ‘I was one of Britains last foundlings’, and documents the story of Tom Mackenzie, who was given to the foundling hospital in the 1940’s. Tom was part of the last class to be enrolled in the Foundling Hospital, and at 15, was part of the last class to leave. Thankfully, at 21, Tom was eventually able to locate his biological family after a long search.  

Document your life story 

At My Story Told, we are passionate about preserving unique stories and legacies. Our ghostwriting service gives you the chance to document your life story and personal insights to future generations, creating a family treasure in the process.

Start your storytelling journey by getting in touch today.