“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.
I’ve been working on my family history for a very long time. I have a few lines that presently have me stumped but overall I have a pretty good picture of my direct ancestors, as far the records go.
The fun of genealogy for me is looking at the recorded details of individual lives in connection with larger historical events in order to gain an understanding of what life was like for my ancestors. I like to figure out why they made the choices they did. It is surprising how much about a person you can learn from something as seemingly dry as a census record. And when you start to look at family groups over time, you really start to feel like you understand them.
As is true of the people I know in real life, I don’t enjoy the company of all my ancestors equally. There is definitely a pattern as to why I am drawn to some branches more than others, and why those sections of my tree are more filled out with distant cousins and ancillary lines (relatives by marriage). It’s the Tookish ones, the adventurers, that appeal: the Drurys who moved west with every new American frontier from Pennsylvania to Washington’s Olympic peninsula; the Rowans who carefully studied and planned in Glasgow for their new lives as pioneer farmers in Ontario; and my enigmatic deMasserano who worked as a cook on a ship, starting in France and moving his family from Canada to the US to Australia and back again.
No offense to my present-day cousins (some of whom I am quite fond of), but I find the Woodyards of West Virginia, farmers and successful businessmen for over 300 years and counting, not terribly interesting. Similarly, researching the Rapin family, comprising generation upon generation of Quebecois farmers, is quite a slog (except that one time in 1704 when two kids were kidnapped and raised by First Nations people, now that was a lively episode).
There was a scientific study done in 1999 that linked a certain gene – DRD4 – with human migration. References to this study and some more recent research on the variation DRD4-7R seem to point to this gene as a factor in the propensity to travel. An interview this March with Indiana University geneticist Justin Garcia led to a spate of popular articles about a genetic basis for wanderlust. It seems about 20% of the population has this gene. I am inclined to think the Drurys and the DeMasseranos must have had it. My Baggins-ish parents lived in California their whole lives; maybe it’s recessive. Perhaps someday Ancestry.com can test for it.