All in the 'family'
0 comment Thursday, November 20, 2014 |
Kissing Cousins, which is a post at the WTPOTUS blog, discusses this article, which makes more genealogical claims about the president. The article says, based on the word of a genealogist, that the president is related to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and ex-President George Bush.
It seems to me that we saw these same claims back during the campaign of 2008 and also during the Henry Louis Gates story, and I scoffed at them then as being propagandistic. To me, these kinds of articles try, firstly, to establish distinguished ancestry for favored presidential candidates and their wives. I am sure there have been focus groups run which have shown that the gullible public are impressed by reports of 'noble ancestry'. This seems paradoxical in a country like ours where many people are defiantly populist and anti-royalty, but it seems there is some having-it-both-ways being done here; people worship certain royals like the late Princess Diana and now her sons, primarily William, and we also have our own ''home-grown'' pseudo-royals like the Kennedys and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, while she was alive. It seems part of us still looks up to royalty and aristocracy. And for many people, sleazy celebrities, provided they have enough ''glamor'' and media coverage, fill in as substitute royalty.
So the media lackeys work at giving candidates and politicians of their choosing some kind of cachet by linking them to illustrious ancestors.
Is it true? Well, as the blogger linked above notes, online genealogy can be notoriously unreliable, and in my experience, sometimes laughably inaccurate and error-ridden. There are some absurd things to be found in online family tree information. It can't be taken at face value; a lot of additional research is needed to discern what is accurate and what is not.
Still, the genealogist of the AP article reports this information as unimpeachable truth. And her political leanings are nakedly obvious, as she mentions some supposed ancestor of the president, a dissenting minister from England, as being very ''socially conscious'', meaning liberal. So it's all right then. I mean, if the president were (supposedly) descended from some hellfire-preaching minister, we would not hear a word about it, I am sure.
The article mentions that Stanley Ann Dunham claimed, like many Americans, to have a Cherokee ancestor (a full-blooded one, of course; that's absolutely de rigueur). I've met relatively few people who don't make this claim. I remember a New York Times article from a year or two ago, in which DNA testing was examined, and the results of some test subjects were discussed. One of those who claimed American Indian ancestry (full-blooded Cherokee, no doubt) was apparently crestfallen when the tests showed nothing indicative of that claim. Recently there was the spectacle of Jessica Alba learning on TV that she was more European than she thought. Her disappointed reaction was amusing in a sad way.
There is a lot of confusion and so much propaganda on matters of DNA and genealogy. The propaganda, of course, is meant to confuse people and to foster the idea that ''we are all one big family'' or ''we are all one race'', etc. Six degrees of separation and all that. How are we who are not scientists to separate the nonsense and lies from the facts? Most of us are not equipped to do so.
And unless we have some solid information about our family history, we begin to fall for much of this propaganda.
In the president's case, it seems that the court genealogists are trying to establish the president's legitimacy as ''one of us'': he is descended (supposedly) from colonial ancestors. He is related to many presidents and public figures. He has long roots in this country -- this is probably supposed to counter the increasing perception that the president is just not American in his experiences, his knowledge, his background, his attitudes, his behavior. So out come these stories about his ancestry and roots.
It's telling that they are trying to tie him to those who are perceived as his bitterest critics: Palin and Limbaugh.
But ultimately it will not work. Even if we had the word of a highly reputable genealogist with no discernible agenda, it would not work.
As Miri at WTPOTUS says, the biggest stumbling-block is that if the original information, the starting point, is not verified, then the rest of it is of very dubious value. Because, when you get down to it, we don't know where we are starting from, without documentation and primary sources, witnesses. It's all just supposition if not outright confabulation.
Think about that. It's pretty unsettling.

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