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Where do you come from? Digging into your Ancestry is more than a hobby

Boredom during lockdown got you finding new things to do? You’re not alone.

Plenty of people around the world have thrown a few dollars at Ancestry and busied themselves by digging back into their family history, grandparent-deep and beyond!

As interesting as a pastime as it is to take-up, though, why do we all feel the need to know where we came from and just how easy is it, anyway, to get the info we’re after?

We spoke to Brad Argent, family historian at Ancestry who gave us the truth about some burning questions.

Why do people want to discover their past?

There are many reasons that compel people to explore their family history; curiosity about how they came to be who they are and where they are, the desire to leave a legacy for future generations, busting family myths or just looking for a good yarn about their family. Everyone has their own motivation for beginning, but we all end up finding out more about ourselves.

How hard is it to uncover some long lost family secrets for others? 

The secrets are there – every family has them. For some it’s as simple asking a few pointed questions when talking to the oldest member of the family, or taking a DNA test, for others it might require building a robust family tree and seeking out historical records. For most people, it’s usually a combination of both.

What happens when someone finds out they’re related to someone of note? Does it happen very often? 

The further back you go, the more people in your family – every generation back doubles the number of ancestors. So, the more research you do the more likely you are to find a ‘notable’ connection. We might not all be able to connect to kings or convicts but with a bit of old school research, we can find the characters in our ancestors that are ‘notable’ to us.

Who’s the most exciting person you’ve been able to connect someone’s DNA back to? 

That’s hard to answer. For me, being connected to Richard Wilkins and being able to reveal that to him live on TV was pretty exciting. By my favourite ‘connections’ have been the ones off-camera where I’ve seen people’s lives change right in front of me – it’s such a privilege. 

Will you ever reach the end of all the historical documents available to you? 

I won’t live to see it. Such a tiny amount of material is available online (less than 5%) and it will take decades and massive leaps forward in technology to see us even getting close to ‘most of the historical documents online’; remembering we’re creating these documents all the time too. The good stuff is still ahead of us.

As the world grows bigger and populations get even more so, do you think tracing will become impossible? 

I think it will get easier. In the last decade, genetic genealogy (DNA testing) has connected/reconnected many families in ways that were almost impossible with the use of documents alone. As DNA technology improves and becomes more widely adopted, I think we will realise just how connected we all are.

Make your own family tree and get digging at Ancestry.com.au.

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