One constant for me throughout my recent changes in religious belief has been an interest in genealogy, although even that has changed in its meaning and purpose. When I was Mormon, I participated in genealogy to extend the blessings of the restoration to my dead ancestors and because I was fascinated by the lives and experiences of those who went before me. My immediate and extended family is very small; I often felt like a â€œstranger in a strange landâ€ and like I did not quite belong. That feeling was exacerbated when my mom, the emotional glue of our family, passed away when I was only 14. Getting to know who my ancestors were and a little about their lives helped me feel that I did have earthly kin and that I did belong here. And since, as a Mormon, I believed that these dead relatives of mine continued to live on and could observe me, I imagined that they were so grateful when they received great blessings in the temple as a result of my efforts. It was richly satisfying and addictive.
Now, as a non-believer, I still enjoy imagining the lives and circumstances of my ancestorsâ€™ humble lives. They may not have thought their lives were of much importance, but their lives are very important to me, for their choices and struggles helped to create me and my unique features. But, the bigger picture has changed from a focus on spiritual salvation and the hereafter to the marvelous history of the world and life on it and my small role in its continuation. I am in awe of being such a small part of this massive movement. It is spiritually satisfying to me to contemplate being part of this greater whole. My appreciation of the earthy physicality of it all has expanded as I no longer believe that the real reality lies in the unseen spiritual realm. I am amazed by the process of cultural and genetic evolution especially in my line. I now believe that my ancestors extend beyond the human race and that among my relatives are all living things â€“ from the grass to the apes.
One of the newest lines of research that has attracted my interest is genetic genealogy. I was introduced to this field through Dr. Woodward, my former BYU bishop, who heads the Sorenson Molecular Genealogical Foundation (http://www.smgf.org/ Note: this is not a commercial site, but a research site). I have had my Y-DNA tested and have learned that my patriarchal DNA comes from the Scandinavian areas of Europe some 10,000 years ago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I1a ). The paper trail on my patriarchal line only goes back to 1560 in southern Germany. I canâ€™t tell you how thrilling it is to know where some of my ancestors (and basis of the genetic code of my Y chromosome) were 10,000 years ago. And through National Geographicâ€™s Genographic Project (https://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/index.html ), I can see how my ancestors got to Scandinavia from Africa. I am also looking into my mtDNA to find out the deep history of my maternal line.
Since I no longer believe in personal spirits, I believe that I am my body and the blueprint of my body is my DNA. I am very interested in the history of that DNA and how that code came to be and what role my genes play in who I am. I am a product of this majestic earth and am related to all terrestrial life; my DNA is evidence of that. Since the awe I feel when I contemplate the history of my creation is a spiritual experience for me, both traditional and genetic genealogy have become an elevating sacrament to me. Genealogy is piece of common ground some Mormons and non-Mormons can use to build bridges of understanding.