Time Essay: Climbing All Over the Family Trees

Democracy makes every man forget his ancestors. So thought De Tocqueville, the observer who for more than a century trapped the American character in his shrewd apercus. That character is too mutable to stay contained. Today it is frantically climbing family trees. After Haley's comet, not only blacks but all ethnic groups saw themselves whole, traceable across oceans and centuries to the remotest ancestral village (see LIVING).

But the hunt for origins had been building for a decade. Leery of a homogeneity that could suffocate the individual, wary of quota systems that specified...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!