Amador's Genealogy Group unlocks the past by following their bloodlines

First published: Friday, January 11, 2008 - By Scott Thomas Anderson

In June 2000, scientists cracked the most dizzying riddle in history when they mapped the genetic code of our species, revealing the molecular building blocks of life itself. A new paradigm was forming. The genome was out of the bottle.

Seven years later, groups like Amador Historical Society's Genealogy Group are finding the breakthrough has opened revolutionary portals to the past, allowing them to fuse the old methods of combing dusty ledgers and flashing microfilm with the staggering new biological power of the double-helix - that very force that connects our DNA to that of our ancestors and offers the fullest picture of who we are and where we came from.

The Genealogy Group is headed up by Marian Randolph, a woman who authored three books on her family lineage and finds genealogy to be thoroughly "addicting." Randolph has dedicated herself to teaching the other members of the club how to get started when they want to discover their family tree. "Once people get into learning their genealogy, they like it so much that they keep digging farther and farther," explained Randolph. "It takes a lot of discipline and dedication, but as a club we do our best to support each other in the effort, as well as learn what we can about the process together."

The club makes regular visits to the Family History Center on Ridge Road in Sutter Creek and the genealogy corner at the Amador County Library. They also go on field trips to events that encompass the broader world of gene hunting.

Mary Heidecker, a member of the Genealogy Group, found that one of the group's trips to "Family History Day" at the California State Archives in Sacramento was invaluable in helping her get information about her own background. "A great thing about the club is that it stays connected to the genealogy world at large," she said. "It keeps us tuned into all the new ways of following your family tree; and the people who are in the club are so nice. I think what I love most about it is hearing the stories of what people have done to research their ancestors. There's a fascinating free-flow of information back and fourth between the members."

The Genealogy Group's give-and-take outlook on knowledge is somewhat necessary in light of new DNA advances that can boggle the mind with doors they open. This mainly boils down to what is known as "genetic genealogy," a tactic which combines the science of DNA with the tried-and-true methods of ancestral research.

Individuals can send samples of their own DNA to research centers, get them charted, and then use aspects of their genetic make-up to determine their relationship to individuals, as well as groups associated with various times and places in world history. By using surnames to navigate, this can aid in the discovery of living relatives and validate what research someone has already done in establishing what they think are distant family connections. In the end it can confirm suspected links between one family to another, or one individual to another.

Randolph has worked hard to keep the Genealogy Group updated on the new forensic and DNA methods of tracing the family tree. However, for her, the new advances only re-enforce what she sees as an ancient calling. "When you read Old Testament scripture, you see that back in Biblical times there was a huge emphasis on mapping genealogies. Many passages talk about who begot who, for entire bloodlines. In that sense, I think the importance of our genealogy is highly ingrained in us. It's natural for people to wonder what their ancestors were like, and it's a joy when they find out."

One Amadorian who recently experienced that joy is Larry Cenotto, the county's best known historian. Cenotto was recently a guest speaker for the Genealogy Group. He talked in-depth about his own journey in discovering his ancestral roots in Italy, which he found in one case went all the way back to the ninth century in Florence. Another revelation for Cenotto was that one of his distant relatives was in the Honor Guard for Napoleon.

Cenotto pointed out that, while he's primarily a historian rather than a genealogist, he had a good time speaking to the Genealogy Group about the process of his search. "I just shared with them my own experience, particularly in regard to what I found was available in the little villages in Italy," Cenotto observed. "I've always felt every human has the right to know his or her genealogy - to know from whom and where they came. With DNA these days, it's just incredible what possibilities are out there. In some cases you can go all the way back. Of course, not everyone cares. But for those who do, I think it's a fundamental right; and something everyone deserves to have revealed to them."

The Genealogy Group meets the second Wednesday of each month at the General Services Administration building, 12200 Airport Road, Martell. Call Barbara McMahon at 295-7182 for more information.