Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Finding the Creative Gene in Your Family History

I'm convinced that there is such a thing as a "creative gene(s)". I believe that the level of one's creative ability is inherited in much the same way that athletic ability or risk-taking is inherited. That is to say that I believe there is a genetic component that determines our body type/muscle capacity that allows some people to be better at say football while others are better at ballet. In the same vein, I believe that some people are born risk-takers. These people seek out adrenalin-producing situations and truly enjoy being "on the edge" while others of us are more comfortable and content to sit on the sidelines and watch the adrenalin junkies push their limits. And I believe that there is a genetic link to creative ability in families. Some people can create an image full of emotion and a deep message with just a few brush strokes while others prefer to buy a piece of art to hang on their wall as recommended by their interior designers who advise them on what looks good.

I'm not a geneticist and I can't back up my beliefs using scientific methods. But I am a keen observer of human behavior and my beliefs are based on observation and logic (O.K. and somewhat from my studies in the field of psychology). I know that regardless of what kinds of abilities one inherits they must be developed to count for anything. If Chopin, Beethoven, or Bach had grown up poor on isolated rural farms with no opportunity to have musical instruction or even touch a piano we would not likely think of them as having musical talent. But on the flip side, you can't expect that every farmer's son (or daughter ;-) who's had an opportunity to take piano lessons to become a musical genius. It takes both ability and opportunity.

The level of one's creative ability may be determined by genetics or opportunity or likely a bit of both. To my way of thinking we all fall somewhere on a continuum of creative ability. Some of us have more than others and some of us have had the opportunity to develop some areas but not others.

So what does all this have to do with genealogy?

Just as you can study your family's medical history or military history by looking at your research data so too can you study your family's creative history. Don't necessarily assume that your family doesn't have much of a creative history just because your family isn't represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has many fine musicians but they are not all composers of music like Chopin, or Beethoven. There are some wonderfully talented musicians in your local community orchestra but they are probably not of the caliber of those in the DSO. And so on.

You may have an ancestor who sang in the church choir but never had an opportunity to take their singing beyond that. Their voice may have been the only instrument available to them and singing with the church choir the only place to express their talent. Often times the only musical experience people had was at church services, especially those who lived in isolated rural areas. Next time you have contact with the historical society where your ancestors lived ask them about local churches. Many churches published weekly bulletins or anniversary jubilee books that listed the organist and members of the choir. You might also look up other creative groups affiliated with a church congregation such as quilting bees, or sewing circles.

Small town newspapers can also be a good source of information about creative endeavors and who was involved with them. They might list a local author's group, or folks who made and donated knitted or crocheted items for a fund raiser.

Did your ancestor sing in the Glee Club in college? Check out college newspapers and yearbooks for this type of information. Was your ancestor a bugler or drummer in the army? Look up military news sources for this information.

Keep an open mind when researching the creative talent in your family. It just may be there in abundance but never well developed due to limited opportunities!


  1. Love the redesign of your blog = very creative!

  2. Jasia,

    Beautiful!! When did this happen? (The blog redesign I mean?) I don't click on your blog page very often - I usually read it on Bloglines.

    To your point - I agree with you that there is a "creative gene" - you see musical or artistic talent through many generations. But what causes it in the first place? The Mozart, or Einstein, or Thoreau? Opportunity plays a part, but there are so many instances of the genius with parents of normal intelligence.

    Cheers -- Randy

  3. Thank you guys for the nice comments on my site redesign. I worked on it over the Memorial Day weekend along with the design for my new blog which will be coming soon to a feed reader near you.

    Randy, I agree with you that there are so many instances of genius with parents of normal intelligence. My daughter is a perfect example. Not only is she much more intelligent than either her father or myself but she has the creative gene in spades. She plays violin and percussion (at the university orchestral level) and is a wonderful artist. And at the ripe old age of 22 is writing her first novel this summer. She is much more creative and talented at the age of 22 than I am even now. And while there is plenty of intelligence in my family as well as her father's, there is no one we know of in either family that has her level of music or artistic talent. So where did it all come from? My guess is it was some kind of a recessive gene thing that sort of all came together by chance of the gene pool.

    Perhaps my buddy the Genetic Genealogist will weigh in on this one. Any thoughts Blaine?