Cover: Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America, from Harvard University PressCover: Family Trees in HARDCOVER

Family Trees

A History of Genealogy in America

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674045835

Publication Date: 04/30/2013


320 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches


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For a nation…so committed presumably to the rejection of birth and blood, the people of theUnited States throughout their history have devoted an enormous amount of energy, time, and money to genealogy and the search for ancestors. To explain this anomaly—indeed, to explain how the search for ancestors evolved in different forms over four centuries and eventually became a distinctly American mode of genealogy—is the burden of François Weil’s well-researched and readable book, Family Trees. Weil, who is chancellor of the Universities of Paris and professor of history at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, knows America well, but he has sufficient distance to be honest and dispassionate about it. The result is a succinct history of genealogy in a nation that supposedly denies the importance of birth and ancestors.—Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books

[An] excellent, long-overdue survey.—Maud Newton, Harper’s

[Weil] displays both thoroughness and grounding as he stakes out the contours of his American genealogical culture into four distinct periods, with successive dominant meanings and touchstones… Weil convincingly delineates the fact that origins matter; they fill many needs, from the noble to the nasty.Kirkus Reviews

Weil considers why America’s present- and future-oriented society with blended cultural values so treasures knowledge of group identities… Clear, fully annotated, subtly analyzed, timely, and nuanced, this book offers both general and academic readers a new view of genealogical research in America in a ‘why they did it’ rather than a ‘how to do it’ presentation.—Frederick J. Augustyn, Jr., Library Journal

Fascinating… Like the families it’s meant to chronicle, genealogy itself has changed quite a bit over time, but it remains, as ever, a dynamic and captivating quest.Publishers Weekly

Brilliantly conceived, fresh in insight, and gracefully executed, François Weil’s book offers a rich and entertaining account of the American fascination with lineage and identity. In his hands genealogy provides a rich measure of the changing parameters of nationalism and the accommodation of pluralism.—Thomas Bender, author of A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History

A fascinating exploration of the uniquely American obsession with genealogy, François Weil’s Family Trees is cultural history at its very best—a tour de force.—Ariela Gross, author of What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America

This elegant social and cultural history of genealogy in America is marked by meticulous research and astute comparisons with Europe as American practices gradually diverged. The central theme of democratization flowing, ebbing, and then flowing once again in the twentieth century is brilliantly realized.—Michael Kammen, past president of the Organization of American Historians

Acutely conscious of the irony that a culture which prizes novelty is also preoccupied with genealogy, François Weil’s Family Trees provides a revealing window into four centuries of cultural transformation. A sweeping and eloquent account of how a present-minded, future-facing people look to their personal past to understand who they truly are.—Steven Mintz, author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood

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