67 Quotes for Genetic Genealogists

67 Quotes for Genetic Genealogists


Hit a brick wall?  Here are 67 quotes to help genetic genealogists get through the week:

1.     “We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook.  We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’– but none exists.”   Stephen Jay Gould

2.     “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches… Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.”   Charles Darwin

3.     “I have had my mother’s wing of my genetic ancestry analyzed by the National Geographic tracing service and there it all is: the arrow moving northward from the African savannah, skirting the Mediterranean by way of the Levant, and passing through Eastern and Central Europe before crossing to the British Isles.  And all of this knowable by an analysis of the cells on the inside of my mouth.  I almost prefer the more rambling and indirect and journalistic investigation, which seems somehow less…deterministic.”   Christopher Hitchens

4.     “Twelve thousand years ago, everybody on earth was a hunter-gatherer; now almost all of us are farmers or else are fed by farmers. The spread of farming from those few sites of origin usually did not occur as a result of the hunter-gatherers’ elsewhere adopting farming; hunter-gatherers tend to be conservative…. Instead, farming spread mainly through farmers’ outbreeding hunters, developing more potent technology, and then killing the hunters or driving them off of all lands suitable for agriculture.”   Jared Diamond

5.     “Oral myths are closer to the genetic conclusions than the often ambiguous scientific evidence of archaeology.”   Bryan Sykes

6.     “Everything predicted in their blood seems to be written in their faces.  It’s like looking at a composite model of every face from around the world: the eye shape of East Asians, the high cheek bones of Mongolians, the mid-brown skin that can turn lighter or darker.”   Spencer Wells (on meeting the San Bushmen, likely to be the oldest human population on Earth).

7.     “For the first half of geological time our ancestors were bacteria.  Most creatures still are bacteria, and each one of our trillions of cells is a colony of bacteria.”   Richard Dawkins

8.     “A million million spermatozoa,
All of them alive:
Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah
Dare hope to survive.
And among that billion minus one
Might have chanced to be Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne—
But the One was Me.”     Aldous Huxley

9.     “We all grow up with the weight of history on us.  Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.”   Shirley Abbott

10.    “There’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilisation we’ve built with the same body and brain.”   Stephen Jay Gould

11.    “Human beings are ultimately nothing but carriers – passageways – for genes.  They ride us into the ground like racehorses from generation to generation.  Genes don’t think about what constitutes good or evil.  They don’t care whether we are happy or unhappy.  We’re just means to an end for them. The only thing they think about is what is most efficient for them.”   Haruki Murakami

12.    “We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.  This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment.”   Richard Dawkins

13.    “I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources.  The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics.  The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture.  The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education.  But it is all information that flows through us.  The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river.  Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.”   David Brooks

14.    “Despite being depicted in innumerable cartoons as apelike brutes living in caves, Neanderthals had brains slightly larger than our own.  They were also the first humans to leave behind strong evidence of burying their dead and caring for their sick.”   Jared Diamond

15.    “We all know interspecies romance is weird.”   Tim Burton

16.    “Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead.  It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake.  It is the traveller from an ancient land who lives within us all.”   Bryan Sykes

17.    “Modern DNA is really simple to use; it’s intact, there’s lots of it about and it’s very simple to analyse.  Ancient DNA is much more difficult.  DNA degrades after death.  Whilst you are alive, your DNA is damaged through many processes – however, you have mechanisms in place in your body that fix that.  After death, these mechanisms stop and you have various processes of degradation, so after time there is very little DNA left, if any, and what is left is in tiny fragments.”   Turi King

18.    “Breathing air is a liberating experience.  It freed our ancestors from the constraints of staying wet or having to remain within easy reach of water for refuge, respiration or reproduction.  But the biggest change it made in our lives was to expose us to a whole new range of sensory experience.”   Lyall Watson

19.    “If people want to swim in the Thames, if they want to take their lives into their own hands, then they should be able to do so with all the freedom and exhilaration of our woad-painted ancestors.”   Boris Johnson

20.    “We stopped looking for monsters under our bed when we realized that they were inside us.”   Charles Darwin

21.    “The fact that the British and the Irish both live on islands gives them a misleading sense of security about their unique historical identities.”   Stephen Oppenheimer

22.    “It’s striking that Native Americans evolved no devastating epidemic diseases to give to Europeans in return for the many devastating epidemic diseases that Indians received from the Old World.”   Jared Diamond

23.    “Our ancestors … possessed a right, which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them.”   Thomas Jefferson

24.    “Nature’s stern discipline enjoins mutual help at least as often as warfare.  The fittest may also be the gentlest.”   Theodosius Dobzhansky

25.    “Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely – make that miraculously – fortunate in your personal ancestry.  Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, everyone of your forbears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so.  Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from it’s life quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all to briefly – in you.”   Bill Bryson

26.    “Most of our ancestors were not perfect ladies and gentlemen.  The majority of them weren’t even mammals.”   Robert Anton Wilson

27.    “The uniformity of the earth’s life, more astonishing than its diversity, is accountable by the high probability that we derived, originally, from some single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the earth cooled.  It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we take our looks; we still share genes around, and the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is a family resemblance.”   Lewis Thomas

28.    “We need to understand there is no ‘normal’ genome sequence and we all are mutants.”   H Rannala

29.    “No species possesses a purpose beyond the imperatives created by genetic history.   The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction, and reason is just one of its various techniques.”   Edward O Wilson

30.    “Owing to the imperfection of language the offspring is termed a new animal, but it is in truth a branch or elongation of the parent; since a part of the embryon-animal is, or was, a part of the parent; and therefore in strict language it cannot be said to be entirely new at the time of its production; and therefore it may retain some of the habits of the parent-system.”   Erasmus Darwin (1794)

31.    “We are all a complete mixture; yet at the same time, we are all related.  Each gene can trace its own journey to a different common ancestor.  This is a quite extraordinary legacy that we all have inherited from the people who lived before us.  Our genes did not just appear when we were born.  They have been carried to us by millions of individual lives over thousands of generations.”   Bryan Sykes

32.    “The past could be jettisoned . . . but seeds got carried.”   Joan Didion

33.    “In genealogy you might say that interest lies in the eye of the gene holder.  The actual descendants are far more intrigued with it all than the listeners, who quickly sink into a narcoleptic coma after the second or third great-great-somebody kills a bear or beheads Charles I, invents the safety pin or strip-mines Poland, catalogues slime molds, dances flamenco, or falls in love with a sheep.  Genealogy is a forced march through stories.  Yet everyone loves stories, and that is one reason we seek knowledge of our own blood kin.  Through our ancestors we can witness their times.  Or, we think, there might be something in their lives, an artist’s or a farmer’s skill, an affection for a certain landscape, that will match or explain something in our own.  If we know who they were, perhaps we will know who we are.  And few cultures have been as identity-obsessed as ours.  So keen is this fascination with ancestry, genealogy has become an industry.  Family reunions choke the social calendar.  Europe crawls with ancestor-seeking Americans.  Your mother or your spouse or your neighbors are too busy to talk to you because they are on the Internet running “heritage quests.”  We have climbed so far back into our family trees, we stand inches away from the roots where the primates dominate.”   Ellen Meloy

34.    “We are all the product of things we’ve never seen and people we never met.  In fact, if just one little detail had been changed in their lives, we may not even exist!”   Melanie Johnston

35.    “We consist of everything the world consists of, each of us, and just as our body contains the genealogical table of evolution as far back as the fish and even much further, so we bear everything in our soul that once was alive in the soul of men.  Every god and devil that ever existed, be it among the Greeks, Chinese, or Zulus, are within us, exist as latent possibilities, as wishes, as alternatives.  If the human race were to vanish from the face of the earth save for one halfway talented child that had received no education, this child would rediscover the entire course of evolution, it would be capable of producing everything once more, gods and demons, paradises, commandments, the Old and New Testament.”   Hermann Hesse

36.    “If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the races of man would afford the best classification of the various languages now spoken throughout the world.”   Charles Darwin

37.    “We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know.  We are walking lexicons.  In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate people of whom we have never heard.”   Penelope Lively

38.    “In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin – seven or eight ancestors at least – and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

39.    “Our ancestors…were laborers, not lawyers.”   Thomas Jefferson

40.    “I am not impressed by ancestry, since if I could trace my origins to Judas Maccabeus or to King David, that would not add one inch to my stature, either physically, mentally or ethically.  What’s more, what about all my other ancestors?  There must have been uncounted thousands of human beings in the century of King David, all of whom in some small way contributed to my production, and every one of them but King David might have been criminals and drunkards for all I know.  (Nor was King David himself entirely unremarkable for his ethical standards.)”   Isaac Asimov

41.    “I do wish one could find some more black eyed Princes and Princesses for our children!  I can’t help thinking what dear Papa said – that it was in fact when there was some little imperfection in the pure Royal descent that some fresh blood was infused…For that constant fair hair and blue eyes makes the blood so lymphatic… it is not as trivial as you may think, for darling Papa – often with vehemence – said: ‘We must have some strong blood.’”   Queen Victoria (in a letter to her eldest daughter).

42.    “I was brought up to do this sort of work.  It is training, experience and genetics.  We offer consistency and regularity.  We have been around for a long time and will be around for a long time.  We are not going to disappear.  I have a family pedigree that allows me time to build up relationships.”   Prince Andrew (on his role as the UK Special Representative for International Trade and Investment)

43.    “There is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.”   Helen Keller

44.    “The only difference between the aristocracy and the rest is that the former have kept records.”   Mark Jobling

45.    “Our ancestors are totally essential to our every waking moment, although most of us don’t even have the faintest idea about their lives, their trials, their hardships or challenges.”   Annie Lennox

46.    “Even if I had convict ancestry, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it.  As far as I’m concerned, the real criminals back in those days weren’t twelve year old boys nicking a loaf of bread or a pair of socks to ward off hunger and blisters.  No, it was those who exploited them; keeping the battler in the gutter while they sat around in their manors, sipping tea and admiring portraits of their toffee-nosed great grandfathers.”   Cameron Trost

47.    “Genealogy belongs to the rich in human history.  The poor rise and fall without leaving a footprint.”   Anne Rice

48.    “Fossil bones and footsteps and ruined homes are the solid facts of history, but the surest hints, the most enduring signs, lie in those miniscule genes.  For a moment we protect them with our lives, then like relay runners with a baton, we pass them on to be carried by our descendants.  There is a poetry in genetics which is more difficult to discern in broken bones, and genes are the only unbroken living thread that weaves back and forth through all those boneyards.”   Jonathan Kingdon

49.    “DNA may be real enough, but it has increasingly come to stand as a metaphor.  For example, the actress Lesley Sharp tells us that ‘there is something quintessentially northern in my DNA’; Sir Alex Ferguson apparently believes that ‘late goals are in Manchester United’s DNA’, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague thinks that human rights ‘are part of our national DNA’; and an article about crisps avers that ‘a love of the potato is hard-wired into our gastronomic DNA’.  How this humble biomolecule has come to symbolize geography, football, civil liberties and snack-foods is a curious business.”   Mark Jobling

50.    “If we look even a little way back into the planet’s history, we come to a time – possibly as recently as 50,000 years ago – when there may have been as many as seven distinct types of human, from Africa to Europe to the wilds of Siberia and the remote islands of Indonesia.  We, Homo sapiens, are the sole survivor of this menagerie – but for most of human history, we were not alone.”   Chris Stringer

51.    “Surely one zoo in the world should have the courage to draw the ultimate conclusion about our ancestry?  A cage with Homo Sapiens in all its varying forms, perhaps then we would understand ourselves better.  The question of course is whether the other animals would approve of it.”   Cees Nooteboom

52.    “Humanity shares a common ancestry with all living things on Earth.  We often share especially close intimacies with the microbial world.  In fact, only a small percentage of the cells in the human body are human at all.”   Brenda Wilmoth Lerner

53.    “I cringe every time I read that this failed business, or that defeated team, has become a dinosaur is succumbing to progress.  Dinosaur should be a term of praise, not opprobrium.  Dinosaurs reigned for more than 100 million years and died through no fault of their own; Homo sapiens is nowhere near a million years old, and has limited prospects, entirely self-imposed, for extended geological longevity.”   Stephen Jay Gould

54.    “Many of the little intrusions into our lives, the little difficulties and the petty problems that beset us, are put into proper perspective when we view the linking of the generations for the eternities.  We become much more patient then.”   Boyd K Packer

55.    “Long before genetics became a flourishing field, Christians have spoken about sin as an inherited condition.”   Michael Horton

56.    “I’d lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins.”   J B S Haldane

57.    “Had you entered any village on Earth in around 3,000 BC, the first person you would have met would probably be your ancestor.”   Jotun Hein

58.    “No matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu.”   Joseph Chang

59.    “A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and a common hatred of its neighbors.”   William Ralph Inge

60.    “History is the essence of innumerable biographies.”   Thomas Carlyle

61.    “Our names were made for us in another century.”   Richard Brautigan

62.    “Genealogy becomes a mania, an obsessive struggle to penetrate the past and snatch meaning from an infinity of names.  At some point the search becomes futile – there is nothing left to find, no meaning to be dredged out of old receipts, newspaper articles, letters, accounts of events that seemed so important fifty or seventy years ago.  All that remains is the insane urge to keep looking, insane because the searcher has no idea what he seeks.  What will it be? A photograph? A will? A fragment of a letter?  The only way to find out is to look at everything, because it is often when the searcher has gone far beyond the border of futility that he finds the object he never knew he was looking for.”   Henry Wiencek

63.    “…all the dutiful grandchildren and great-grandchildren lingering over deathbeds with digital recorders, or else mechanically pursuing their ancestors through the online genealogy sites at three in the morning, so very eager to reconstitute the lives and thoughts of dead and soon-to-dead men, though they may regularly screen the phone calls of their own mothers.  I am of that generation.  I will do anything for my family except see them.”   Zadie Smith

64.    “… the pursuit of origins is a way of rescuing territory from death and oblivion, a reconquest that ought to be patient, devoted, relentless and faithful.”   Amin Maalouf

65.    “When I opened the box, I had to remove myself from whose handwriting it was that I was reading and whose story I was hearing.  I had to, or I never would have made it past the first letter.  If I stopped to think about my Grandpa writing to my Grandma, knowing how much he loved her and how many years he spent without her after her death, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it through just one letter without an onslaught of tears.  And it was Grandpa, a voice I knew so well.  One that I miss terribly.”   Kara Martinelli

66.    “Everyone will tell you that genealogy serves two purposes: self-knowledge and social status, some sort of pedigree divined from names, locations, and achievements of eminence.  However, there is nothing quite like an anomaly to suck attention away from the droning census records.  A suicide hinted at emotion and thought.  A closet door was flung open and daylight flooded a skeleton.”   Ellen Meloy

67.    “There is something about a closet that makes a skeleton terribly restless.”   John Barrymore



Earth's History in 1 Minute

Earth's History in 1 Minute - 4½ billion years in a 1 minute video

Posted by Abroad in the Yard on Friday, 14 August 2015