Why are we so obsessed with family history? Professor Julia Creet explores this question in her new book ‘The Genealogical Sublime’

Molecule of DNA forming inside the test tube equipment

York University English Professor Julia Creet traces the histories of the largest, longest-running and most rapidly growing genealogical databases, and seeks to explain North Americans’ current obsession with family history, in her new book set to publish on Feb. 28.

The Genealogical Sublime (University of Massachuestts Press, 2020) is a crossover academic/trade book seeks to delineate a broader history of the genealogy database industry.

Since the early 2000s, genealogy has become a lucrative business, an accelerating online industry, a massive data mining project and fodder for reality television. But the fact remains that our contemporary fascination with family history cannot be understood independently of the powerful technological tools that aid and abet in the search for traces of blood, belonging and difference.

As each unique case study within The Genealogical Sublime reveals, new database and DNA technologies enable an obsessive completeness – the desire to gather all of the world’s genealogical records in the interests of life beyond death. First-hand interviews with key players, including Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints executives, Ancestry.com founders, industry observers and professional and amateur family historians, round out this timely and essential study.

Julia Creet

Creet is professor of English at York University and director and producer of the 2016 documentary film, Data Mining the Deceased: Ancestry and the Business of Family. She is a leading international scholar in cultural memory studies, having been involved in the development of the field since the 1990s. Creet’s research projects are broadly interdisciplinary spanning the humanities and the social sciences, including the history of the Holocaust, literary studies, film studies, archival studies, public history, data privacy and direct-to-consumer genetics.

In 2017, Creet received a York Research Leader Award in part for her leadership in public engagement. She was also the recipient of the 2018 Inaugural President’s Award for Research Impact.