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March 08, 2011

How does a photo of a fruit fly breeding chamber lead to the discovery of one’s own lineage back to 14th century France? That’s not a question I’d ever have thought to ask, but this evening I found an answer after following the most fascinating click trail in, well, ever.

It started with an idle perusal of recent Flickr photos from my contacts. Jeremy Keith is currently in Chicago for DrupalCon, and after a page of tantalizing food and architectural photos, I found myself back in Brighton looking at his photos from a laboratory-related exhibit at the Lighthouse Gallery.

One especially mundane photo in particular caught my eye, his capture of a placard on a fruit fly breeding chamber. In particular what I noticed was the usage of the Latin genus name drosophila.

I’m quite familiar with the word because Dr. Gordon Tener — my grandmother’s brother and a father figure to my own dad — had a long career as a professor of biochemistry at the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver. During his tenure he researched, among other things, ribonucleic acid (RNA) and the genetic organization of drosophila melanogaster, otherwise known as the common fruit fly.

Dr. Tener died two years ago, and as I was looking at Jeremy’s photo I realized that I may never have punched his name into Google to see what the internet knew about his life and achievements. So I did, and eventually I stumbled across a Blogger site set up to document the extended family history of the Tener family.

The top of the site references something called the Tener Book, which was a genealogy published in the fifties that I’d never heard of. And what do you know, there on page 79 are references to Dr. Tener and my grandmother, which means this book is about my family history, back 20 generations through nine centuries and five countries, complete with photos of various great-great-great-great grand-relatives and a family crest I didn’t know about.

Tener family crest

All from a photo of a fruit fly breeding chamber.

It’s easy to take for granted just how much information we have at our fingertips these days, but then mind-blowingly personal discoveries like this come along every now and then and put it all in sharp focus. The internet is amazing.

Greg says:
March 09, 06h

Great story. Have you reached out to the author of the Terner Book to add your name to the lineage?

March 09, 06h

What a great experience!

I was in the Provo Temple ( ) just a few weeks ago. I gave the lady at the desk my name. She asked if I was descended from Jesse DeForest of France. I excitedly replied yes. She informed me that she was also his descendant. We made arrangements to meet after my Temple session. After trading phone numbers and a couple of conversations, we found we were descended from the same son but different grandsons of Jesse - we’re cousins (of a rather distant variety)! She pointed me to a book titled, “A Walloon Family in America” which contains an account of Jesse and his family through a different line. I couldn’t believe I was sitting and reading a book about my own family. I was absolutely mesmerized!

If you want to learn more about your family, a great place to research is at - tons of resources there. Happy hunting! Thanks for sharing this story!

Ruben says:
April 24, 04h

Wow great story. I also did a search like this some years ago, but without much luck. Most of the information seemed to be a dead end or on pages that didn’t exist anymore…
Maybe I’ll give it another shot today, especially the link from Tom seems very helpful.

Donnie says:
April 27, 13h

Reading your story made me think of the story of my family. While, we all want to think we are descended from some great king of yore, I would be happy to just know the trek my genes having taking around this world of ours. Maybe my investigation lies ahead of me. Cheers to you.

Fraser Hannah says:
May 19, 06h

Wow, that is mind blowing! Surfing the web can be a great adventure - I like nothing better than finding a website that takes me on a journey of discovery. It can be truly magical starting out with the mundane and ending up at the end of the rainbow.