Issue 2/2013, 109. Volume Page 161–180
“My Family”: Ontologies and Utopias of Kinship in Popular Genealogy
Ontologien und Utopien von Verwandtschaft in der populären Genealogie
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Setting a recollection from the author’s childhood in a German village where a child is asked who it belongs to as a comparative frame, the article considers the latest findings on popular genealogy since the 19th century in a comparative perspective. It challenges interpretations that regard genealogical research as a compensatory reaction to breaks, uprootings, dislocations caused by migration and/or social mobility. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research on popular genealogy in Austria today, it highlights the specific dynamics brought about by digitalization of church’s and state’s parish and civil register and their communication with mailing lists. Genealogists develop and use these media devices to create an assembly of people in their database who they address as “my family”. Surnames no longer index a transparency of a social order but are used as a tool of research in a new mass culture of vernacular history. People with an identical surname are put in the database as undocumented kin – relatives, whose connection will be proved by further archival findings. Popular genealogy thus on the one hand refers to and re-establishes an ontological matrix of kinship (here: social constructions are made plausible as always critically considered historical findings in archives). On the other hand the digitalization catapults data into an open space and transcends or sidesteps hitherto known answers to the classical oedipal question (to whom one belongs) by assuming, that all dead and living people of the human species belong to each other.
popular genealogy, kinship, family, archives, databases