Genealogy is the most popular hobby in the United States. Dedicated family historians often introduce one another with the question “where are your people from?” They think nothing of traveling long distances just to visit the place an ancestor once homesteaded.
Why are Americans so obsessed with family trees? No other culture looks at family history quite the same way we do. Francois Weil’s book, Family Trees: a History of Genealogy in America, does an excellent job of explaining the “why”. Weil theorizes that the U.S. has evolved from the European model that traces family lines in order to prove land claims, social status, and economic power to one that “reinforces the sense of self and the significance of the family as a moral, civic & social unit.”
Francois Weil’s work doesn’t contain individual family histories (sorry genies!). Instead, it attempts to explain the psychology behind Americans’ desire to discover their past and how it unites us as a people.