Family Trees are Boring – and That’s Fine

The idea of seeking out the names and birth dates of our ancestors is something that’s as old as time. After all, a military person who could trace their lineage back to Napoleon or George Washington might have found their career choice somewhat preordained. Today, separated from the pomp of high society, genealogy has become much more of a mainstream – even mundane – hobby. 

Game of Thrones

Of course, the use of family trees in entertainment has contributed to their modern popularity. The TV show Who Do You Think You Are? helped Sarah Jessica Parker find her tenth great-grandmother, who had links to the Salem Witch Trials. Over 12 seasons, the presenters also worked with Nick Offerman, Steve Buscemi, and Zooey Deschanel, among others, to uncover the secrets of their pasts. 

The complexities of modern dramas like Game of Thrones have kept genealogy relevant, too. Tracing back the histories of the Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen clans is especially difficult given the wealth of source material, which currently spans five novels (and two more a decade in the writing). The Targaryen family tree goes back almost twenty generations and includes several characters who have sat on the Iron Throne. 

With the release of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, interest in the Targaryen family tree has grown, largely because the show features a brand new set of characters. It’s perhaps no surprise that online sources have attempted to make sense of the extensive cast with resources like online family trees. For example, an infographic depicting the Targaryen line by ExpressVPN places the show around the middle of the family’s history, around ten generations prior to Daenerys and her two siblings, Rhaegar and Viserys. This invaluable visual really helps to illuminate the relationships between the characters, especially as the Targaryens are notorious for recycling names among themselves (just to add to the confusion!).

Cheddar Man

The problem with family trees in entertainment is that they can make our own efforts at genealogy seem disappointing. However, it’s worth noting that all of those celebrity lines are almost invariably incorrect. Genealogy is at its most accurate after the advent of the Bureau of Census in 1902 so the idea of Sarah Jessica Parker being able to find relatives from 1692-3 sounds a tad ridiculous. 

Of course, that’s fine. It’s entertainment. The only true way to determine somebody’s heritage accurately is via DNA testing. This is how we know that England’s 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man is related to somebody living half a mile away from where he was found, in Gough’s Cave. The Modern Met website details the extraction of DNA from Cheddar Man’s inner ear bone and its comparison to local man Adrian Targett. 

One thing that’s clear from all of these stories is that the results came at great expense, something that most people can’t afford. This makes paper records and oral histories still the go-to resource for fans of genealogy (standard DNA testing kits are useful for finding out places of origin but not much else). So, given the problems listed above, is it worth creating a family tree at all?

Yes, of course. The likelihood is that your own heritage will be a modest affair but it can still provide some answers to the puzzle of your existence. Just don’t expect to find too many celebrities in your past. This isn’t TV.