Monday, October 8, 2007

Such a Close Family

[Pedigrees] A fascinating new book recently landed in my office mailbox. Presumably, Montreal publisher McGill-Queen's University Press would like a City Weekly review.

This is it.

Some Family: The Mormons and How Humanity Keeps Track of Itself is a Canadian historian's deep examination of the massive genealogical resources of the LDS Church. It's respectful, and thoroughly researched. Author Donald Harman Akenson is understandably impressed--even seems a bit daunted by every devout Mormon's drive to dig up every last ancestor before passing to the great beyond. The church's big, honkin' genealogical database in downtown Salt Lake City currently contains 2 billion names, 2.4 million rolls of microfilm and 278,000 books--give or take a few hundred-thousand, I'm guessing.

As an objective source, a guy who has spent most of his academic life studying the history of the Irish, Akenson exhibits a charming sort of holy shit can you believe these worker bees attitude throughout, as he evaluates the history and effectiveness of the whole Mormon genealogy model.

It turns out, as impressive as this particular church's family tree obsession is, most anyone can track back to the beginnings of great-great-great Aunt Matilda Smith-Young-Kimball.

That's because we humans--Mormon or otherwise--are garden-variety idiots for incest.

According to author Akenson:

"What saves this [genealogy tracking] task from being completely inconceivable is the simple fact that human beings interbreed quite promiscuously. Not just third cousins, or second, but first cousins, uncles and nieces, brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, nephews and aunts, wives and brothers-in-law, and on and on. Most of the closest inbreedings are covered up by social convention and by skilled lying. Unless your parents come from totally separate populations (say, from Africa and China), you would not have to go back many generations to find some of your mother's people procreating with your father's--would not, that is, if the records were complete and accurate, which they are not. In any case, your mother's people were procreating with each other, as were your father's: the only question if how genetically close the inbreeders were."

Hmm. At least Warren Jeffs had the huevos to live out loud with his inbreeding. (Holly Mullen)

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