In 1982, Peter Andrews wrote in American Heritage that the “stereotype of the genealogist” has been familar in popular culture, usually a “specific type, easily recognizable and faintly ridiculous,” whether an elderly lady examining musty records or a “retired clergyman supplementing his pension.” He adds that this meant that genealogy, itself, “carried an air of quackery about it.” However, he says this is no longer the case. This is evident in some series I have written about on this blog before, like Amphibia, Infinity Train, Steven Universe, and throughout the recent reboot of Carmen Sandiego, to name a few posts, apart from last week’s post reviewing genealogy in the Outlander series. This is not unique to those series, however. After all, as a podcast, BlackGenProLive, “genealogy and history are en vogue in popular culture, largely due to the number of television programs that are themed around the topics,” and noted in FamilyTree, with The Guardian even saying the current family history boom is due to the internet and TV.  Genealogy and family history is widespread in popular culture, with some authors, like Juliette Eames, creating customized children’s family history books for people! As Thomas Jay Kemp put it in 2013, “you can find references to genealogy everywhere in America these days.”
John D. Beatty of the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center wrote in 2018 that genealogists before the 1970s especially only played “incidental roles in eccentric, snobby, or dysfunctional veins.” He called the famous satirical painting by Grant Wood, Daughters of Revolution, criticizing the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), one of the first “artistic depictions of genealogists,” and noted a few other examples prior to the 1970s:
- In the 1942 film Castle in the Desert, Professor Gleason, a genealogist with a “moustache and walking stick,” arrives at a a mansion of another affuelent man, and he is introduced as a genealogist who will “tell us about the monkeys in our family trees.” He later inquires about a notorious family and the wife of the affulent man gives him a warning, and he died after drinking a cocktail. The message of this film for such a superficial portrayal of a genealogist, is that genealogy is “something that only interested the upper classes and involved the lineages of famous families.”
- In a 1961 episode of the The Andy Griffith Show, “A Plaque for Mayberry,” a town mayor summons a sheriff and his deputy, where they meet two elegantly dressed ladies of a Women’s Historical Society, declaring that they are “attempting to trace the descendant of a Revolutionary War hero, Nathan Tibbs, who had played a pivotal role at the Incident of Mayberry Bridge,” which supposedly turned the tide of the war, wanting access to town records. Ultimately, while the genealoists serve only as incidental characters, the view of genealogical research as “a blue-blooded occupation and those who pursue it do so only to find links to prominent forebears” is communicated once more.
- In a 1969 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond goes undercover as a genealogist in order to “investigate Blofeld’s claims of nobility,” and it again promotes a view of “genealogists as effete elitists, a campy profession that attracted only eccentrics.”
- In a 1969 comedy-drama, The Sterile Cuckoo, Pookie Adams is not a genealogist, but loves cemeteries, taking her boyfriend to a graveyard, extoling the “ability to find stories of the departed by reading their epitaphs.” Beatty suggests that this shows that “cemeteries were not places that psychologically-healthy people ever visited.”
After 1970, Beatty specifically holds up Roots as shattering the “notion that genealogy was only for the blue-blooded,” and says that Alex Haley “embodied a sense of normalcy that had eluded earlier caricatures of genealogists.” This is much better than the “magical quality” displayed in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by transphobic J.K. Rowling, with genealogy not explored at length in the film, none of the characters as genealogists, and the family genealogy is only a minor plot device. Contrast this with the controversial film, The Da Vinci Code, in 2006, where genealogical research plays a key role in the film itself,and various popular television shows  where ordinary ancestors are discussed. Even though research is often minimized, Beatty argues that these shows “provide some insight into research methodology.” He concludes his article by saying that new portrayals reflect a change in genealogy over time, including further professionalization and democratization which makes it more available to the masses, even while he acknowledges no one should expect genealogists to become “commonplace on the silver screen” even if they show up more in television. He then hopes for complex and diverse genealogical characters in the future which are devoid of stereotypes and are problem-solvers.
Not accounting for documentaries with family history themes, like Children of the Inquisition, Birthplace, and August: Osage County as pointed out by Esther of MyHeritage, Helen, in an undated post on her genealogy blog, gives a few examples of genetic genealogy in popular culture:
- The TV series Shameless. In a 2011 episode, “Nana Gallagher Had an Affair,” an estranged mother tried to get custody of her son, but finds out that her ex-husband, Frank, is the biological father. In a 2016 episode “Own Your Shit,” a brother takes another ancestry DNA test, showing that Carl is “part Native American, specifically Apache, securing him a reserved place.” Then there’s the 2017 episode “Got Bless Her Rotting Soul,” where a family friend takes a DNA screening test, finding a “rare chromosomal pattern” which belongs to a fictional, and isolated, community in rural Kentucky.
- In a 2018 episodes of the series, A Discovery of Witches, there is a study of genetics of various species, like demons, witches, and vampires, including an explanation of mitochondrial DNA
- In a 2018 episode of the series, Bull, “The Missing Piece,” a team assists a man after police identify him as a suspect using “investigative genetic genealogy via a match in a for-profit genetic genealogy company’s customer database,” and he finds out that he was adopted and had an identical twin brother, with the revelation of a twin brother resulting “in all charges against him being dropped.”
- In a 2018 episode of Blue Bloods, “Thicker Than Water,” two detectives investigate an attempted murder after a daughter discovers, using a consumer DNA test that “the doctor is her biological father.” Oh no, what a shock! In a later episode of Blue Bloods, “Family Secrets,” in 2020, one character is puzzled by an “unknown first cousin match on his paternal side when he does a consumer DNA test for a school assignment.”
- In the series Grey’s Anatomy, there is an episode in 2019, “Blood and Water,” where a doctor orders a DNA test to “overcome her fears about her unknown genetic heritage when feeling pressured to have children.” In another 2019 episode, “And Dream of Sheep,” a co-worker is able to identify the birth mother of his friend using a “first cousin DNA match.”
- In a 2019 episode of The Good Fight, “The One where a Nazi Gets Punched,” a law firm represents plaintiffs in a lawsuit against a “direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing company.”
- In a 2019 episode of Nancy Drew, “The Hidden Staircase,” a co-worker whips out a DNA test from her lock, asking her long-lost cousin for “some of his saliva for a DNA comparison to help her uncover her mother’s mysterious past.”
- In a 2020 episode of Stumptown, “The Past and the Furious,” a former marine and current PI, is hired to track down the birth parents of an adoptee.
- In a 2020 episode of Vera, “Parent Not Expected,” a DCI investigates the death of a young man who had recently found, through a DNA test, that “the man who raised him was not his biological father,” with the admin of an online genealogy forum helping people identify their biological fathers.
“The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown; no one can say why the same peculiarity in different individuals of the same species, and in individuals of different species, is sometimes inherited and sometimes not so; why the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather or grandmother or other much more remote ancestor; why a peculiarity is often transmitted from one sex to both sexes, or to one sex alone, more commonly but not exclusively to the like sex”- Chapter 1 of The Origin of the Species
On a related note, in 2013, Daisy Hildyard in The Guardian listed ten literary works about ancestors, specifically pointing to Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, “This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin, The Rainbow by DH Lawrence, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, “The Eternity of Nature” by John Clare, Brief Lives by John Aubrey, Henry IV Part I by William Shakespeare, Chronicles by Holinshed, and The Bible. Family history themes are even more widespread than this, however. Noel Murray, in 2015, talked about nine films focusing on family secrets, specifically Little White Lie, Secrets & Lies, A Family Thing, Lone Star, Siskel & Ebert, Capturing the Friedmans, The Celebration, Ida, Daughter from Danang, My Architect, and Stories We Tell. Others have written about genealogy in the realm of theater, of which were are various examples,  or noted some of the “most insane families in anime.” On the latter, in a post for the Anime News Network, Gia Manry mentioned:
- Arcana Famiglia (La storia della Arcana Famiglia), a mafia-style family
- The Rozen Maidens (Rozen Maiden), sister dolls
- The Ushiromiya Family (Umineko no Naku Koro ni), a huge clan
- The Matou Family (Fate/stay night), creators of a system that serves as a central conflict throughout the franchise as a whole
- Eastern Europe (Hetalia), composed of personified nations
- Britannian Royal Family (Code Geass), has a family history “chock-full of colorful characters, political intrigue, and outrageous deaths”
- The Hair Siblings (Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo), siblings fighting over their inheritance to the Hair Kingdom and are totally bonkers
- The Ikari Family (Neon Genesis Evangelion), a clan which has a lot of internal family problems
Some others, like BYU Family History, lists family history themes in the White supremacist Back to the Future, and other films, like Lion King, Holes, Star Wars, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Hitch, and Mulan. As one genealogist put it, “genealogy has changed; but yet it has not,” with genealogists continuing to seek out “records hidden in courthouse attics and basements.”
 There may be some reviews of popular culture in Christine Scodari’s book Alternate Roots: Ethnicity, Race, and Identity in Genealogy Media, although I’m not sure. But I’ll try to get the book and let you know what I think, writing about it on here.
 Like Who Do You Think You Are, Genealogy Roadshow, and Finding Your Roots. Some scholars have criticized what they call “selective rememberance” on these TV shows.
 In one post, Sydney Orton,talks about family history themes in Ragtime, Bandstand, The Pirate Queen, Miss Saigon, Finding Neverland, Evita, Bonnie & Clyde, Fiddler on the Roof, and Big River. In another post, she focuses on similar themes in Come From Away, 1776, Allegiance, Anastasia, 9 to 5, Les Miserables, Newsies, A Tale of Two Cities, Bright Star, Memphis, West Side Story, Titanic: The Musical, The Sound of Music, and The Civil War.