Tracing one’s roots
I have always been intrigued by sites like genebase.com which claim to trace your ancestry – right from the origin of your ancestors, their ethnic background to the roots of your surname. All this by buying a kit which tests your ancestry and I presume it’s done by testing your DNA. All this for a couple of hundred dollars plus shipping. As I do not know anyone who has actually done this…I do not know how this works or whether it’s reliable but it was while researching this that I came across a news item which talked of a less sophisticated and a traditional method of testing one’s ancestry – in India ofcourse.
In Hardwar, a holy city in India, there are the ‘Pandas’ who are ‘record holders’ so to speak. They have been physically jotting down the family details of those who have been visiting Hardwar and if you approach them you just might be able to trace your origins, perhaps going back many generations. In this case the writer managed to trace his origins back to 1905. It’s impressive considering that a complete stranger has all this information! It’s all stored in long books or scrolls of paper. As the writer narrates:
…panditji soon came out carrying six-inch thick, more than two feet long, stacks of papers bound in green cloth, typically folded once over. Each bahi—the record book—contained about 600 to 800 pages.
Interesting huh? Well I can’t help wondering if any details of our family are stored here. In those days almost everyone had this habit of making pilgrimages to holy cities and I know for certain that one of my dad’s great uncles died there.
From my father’s side we have details going back only 4-5 generations up till my great-great grandfather whom we know was a teacher. We know just that about him…that he was a teacher, nothing else. However we also know that our ancestors are from Goa. One of them fled Goa (the rest of the family, Hindu priests, still reside there) when the Portuguese invaded and we are descendents of this person. On my mother’s side we have a far longer history, the advantage of being descendents of Sardar Purandare who was the Governor of the Saswad area during Peshwa rule of the Maratha Kingdom. He was a close friend of Peshwa Madhavrao. But even though my uncle has the details of most of these ancestors he has nothing about the women of the Purandare clan of the time. I guess that’s natural, as these details were never recorded. Women were not considered very important unless they were queens or princesses!
I am also curious to know more about my father’s side of the family…what exactly happened when one of the Jatar brothers left Goa and the kind of life he lived. There is absolutely no information on this although there are several Jatar families, not all of whom we can connect to us.
One of my favorite books is Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’. Alex Haley, an African American, wrote about how he traced his family history back to the original African, by the name of Kunta Kinte, who was captured by slave traders way back in 1767. He managed to get to his roots because his ancestors passed down an oral history of Kunta’s experiences. There are those who doubt Haley’s work and it is possible though that Haley may have made a mistake, but it is difficult to prove or disprove this…although some historians claim to have disproved it.
However, the fact that during those times there were other ways to keep records is undisputed. The oral tradition has been common in many traditional societies.
Update: xntricpundits told me about an interesting site called Indianroots, (an Indian government site) which helps Indians who left India a long time ago, some as long ago as the 10th century, to locate their ancestors and ancestral village in India. I do not know if anyone has used this method successfully but I should think that as it is a government site it should work.