What S'poreans find while tracing their roots

What S'poreans find while tracing their roots
Mr Paul Supramaniam with his wife, Margaret, and their sons Matthew (far left) and James Timothy.

SINGAPORE - In a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a genealogy show on the American TLC cable channel, supermodel Cindy Crawford traces her roots back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Royalty lurks, too, in the family trees of some Singaporeans, as discovering one's ancestry becomes more common here.

Roots: Tracing Family Histories is an exhibition about such journeys, focusing on four families from different ethnic groups.

Organised by the National Library Board (NLB), the display at the National Library Gallery includes about 250 documents and objects on loan from 19 families. Artefacts include a pre-war marriage certificate, genealogy charts and family heirlooms such as cooking implements.

"Through this exhibition, we hope to inspire other Singaporeans to begin their own journeys of discovery," says Ms Tan Huism, the library board's head of exhibitions and curation.

The exhibition also indirectly reflects Singapore's social, economic and cultural history, she says. "It's about Singapore's history in less abstract terms."

She hopes that the exhibition will also let the public know that there are "rich resources" that they can use for their research into their family history.

For instance, the NLB has a digitised collection of Singapore newspapers dating from 1831, while the National Archives of Singapore contains marriage and burial records.

While she does not have exact figures, Ms Tan says that anecdotally, more people seem to be interested in their ancestral history.

Associate Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore, says this could be because Singaporeans are ageing.

People aged 65 years and older accounted for 2.5per cent of the population in 1965. The group is expected to swell to 18.4 per cent by 2030.

"As people get ready to 'exit', they may wish to leave behind a legacy, so that it won't be forgotten by the next generation," adds Prof Straughan.

Another reason for the rising interest in heritage could be because Singapore is becoming more multicultural and multiracial. Last year, one in five, or 5,388 marriages, involved partners of different ethnic groups - up from one in eight, or 2,814 marriages, in 2001.

Says Prof Straughan: "There is a rise in the number of people here who are from different countries, cultures and races. In an atmosphere of diversity, as opposed to one of homogeneity, people are more likely to want to ascertain their identity and find out their roots."

Tracing family histories is an important exercise, she says. "To understand our current status and have a good sense of where we are heading, we need a good appreciation of where we came from."

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