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Modern families seeking guide to living from patterns in family tree
Modern families are turning to their family trees for evidence of a 'grand design', in the hope of finding guidance on what they should be doing with their lives.
The huge numbers of people who are looking for answers to life's choices among those long in the grave are responsible for an explosion of interest in genealogy, according to bosses at the Genes Reunited website.
It is the young especially who say they are looking for inspiration on how to find their way in the world from the patterns laid down by their ancestors.
Of the 3000 respondents to a survey on the website, 71 per cent say they've come to their family history to seek out patterns, trends and traits, such as a bias towards a particular occupation or a penchant for a certain talent.
Among those under 25 years old, that number climbs to almost 80 per cent.
According to 69 per cent of members, knowing the facts of who their ancestors were and what they did for a living will offer inspiration on how to live their own life today.
Around three-quarters of those under 40 believe this to be true. This kind of inspiration also turns out to be more important to men than women.
The website's controllers say they are staggered by the number of emails they receive from members who say they have ended up following in the ways of their forebears without realising it.
For example, nothing surprised Maureen Quaid, 58, more than when her son Paul, whom she brought up in modest circumstances on London's Old Kent Road, told her he was going off to study at agricultural college.
It was only when Maureen later turned to Genes Reunited that she found out she came from a long line of farmers stretching back 400 years. Oblivious to his pedigree, Paul went on to work as a herdsman for the Bowes-Lyon estate and ended up living , unintentionally, a few miles from where the family's original farm stood in Lincolnshire.
Then there is the story of Bob Cook, 57, owner of a B&B in York, who spent 34 years in the military and has two sons who have both served tours of duty in Iraq. His father - also a military man - was adopted, and Bob knew little of his birth family until he started investigating his genealogy. He was astounded to find that his unknown relatives had also been soldiers. Today, he can trace 30 members of his bloodline who have served their country in what he now calls "the family business".
When the young Lesley Fenn, 83, followed his father into nursing neither of the two men guessed that one day Lesley would be using the Internet to trace a lineage of nurses all the way back to Florence Nightingale.
And it was only through recent research on Genes Reunted that Patrick Hayward, 77, discovered that when he started his first day in his father's clock repair business all those years ago, he was the latest in a line of master watchmakers going back five generations and across two counties.
"Our information suggests that these repeating patterns are a much more widely experienced phenomenon than has so far been considered," said Martine Parnell.
"People seem to be finding that just having a good job or a nice house is not enough anymore. They want something more fulfilling, they're looking for their true vocation if you like.
"They have been telling us that looking back into their family history helps them. When they discover that actually they come from a long line of sailors or teachers or whatever, that gives them inspiration to maybe find if they have inherited the same skills and how they might be able to apply them in their own world.
"We've heard some truly stirring stories from some people whose lives have literally gone off in a whole new direction from what they've learned from their ancestors."
That's certainly true for Susan Watson, 58, who has discovered that a rare blood disorder has been running in her family ever since it got entwined with some immigrant engineers in 1618.
Her family tree shows that several branches have suffered the unexplained death of groups of siblings over the years, but because the disease is rarely associated with Caucasians it has never been previosuly diagnosed.
Susan is now using Genes Reunited to track down relatives who may have the disease but are unaware of it.
Says Martine Parnell, "Intriguingly our research shows that for some people, the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for' applies, because around 50 per cent of people don't end up actually pursuing the pattern that is suggested by their ancestry.
"This may be because they are too timid or they can't afford to. More likely it's because they feel they have left it too late, given that the majority of our members say they would encourage their children down a path suggested by their family tree.
Notes to the Editor - About Genes Reunited
Genes Reunited was launched in 2002 as a sister-site to the Internet phenomenon Friends Reunited. Since then it has grown to become the UK's largest genealogy website.
It marked a revolution in genealogy and ancestry by combining them with Internet social-networking. Members are able to build their family tree by posting it on the site and investigating which ancestors they share with other members. They can also search historical records such as census, birth, death, marriage and military records.
It currently has over 11 million members and over 750 million names listed. One new name is added to the site every single second.