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- May 15, 2014Surviving a Secret Childhood in Nazi-Occupied France -- Leon MalmedJewish Genealogical Society of SacramentoSunday, May 18, 2014, 10 a.m.Leon Malmed will share a secret he kept for more than 60 years. He was three years old and living with his parents and sister in Compiegne, France. The family was Jewish. When his parents were arrested in 1942, their Christian neighbors offered to watch the children for what they thought would be a few hours. It turned into a lifetime, as Leon's parents later died at Auschwitz.The children were subjected to a harrowing undercover childhood during the war and after the war, a kidnapping attempt by their aunt and uncle after the war.Leon immigrated to the U.S. in 1964 and became a high-tech executive in the Silicon Valley for 30 years. He is the author of a 2013 book about his experience: "We Survived … At Last I Speak," and lives with his wife in South Lake Tahoe.Roots of genealogy craze: ColumnGregory Rodriguez 8:41 p.m. EDT May 12, 2014 USA TodayHow an elitist pursuit became a mainstream American obsession.People researching at the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City.(Photo: AP 2010 photo)Alex Haley, author of the hugely popular 1976 book Roots, once said that black Americans needed their own version of Plymouth Rock, a genesis story that didn't begin — or end — at slavery. His 900-page American family saga, which reached back to 18th century Gambia, certainly delivered on that. It also shared with all Americans the emotional and intellectual rewards that can come with discovering the identity of your ancestors.No one knew it at the time, but Haley's best-seller and the blockbuster television miniseries that aired a year later were the beginnings of a new genealogy craze that would sweep the nation.Four decades later, genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the U.S. after gardening, and the second most visited category of website, after pornography. It's a billion dollar industry that has spawned television shows, scores of books and — with the advent of over-the-counter genetic test kits — a cottage industry in DNA ancestry testing.Racist historyGenealogy has always had a U.S. following. But before the civil rights movement, which encouraged racial and ethnic minorities to embrace their previously marginalized identities, the study of family history was largely the province of white social climbers and racists. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with millions of southern Europeans arriving on American shores, white elites sought to maintain their social status by promoting a definition of whiteness that excluded newcomers. Genealogy became a way for them to prove their credentials for membership in such hereditary societies as the Daughters of the American Revolution, which was founded in 1890 and stood for, in the words of its president general, "the purity of our Caucasian blood."By the late 1960s, such bald-faced white supremacy was in retreat, vibrant immigrant identities of the early 20th century had largely been assimilated and the women's movement was challenging gender roles. All the tumult made "identity crisis" and "finding yourself" household terms.Psychologist Roy Baumeister cynically concluded that genealogy's popularity stemmed from the fact that it was the only "quest for self-knowledge" that boasted a "well-defined method," whose "techniques were clear-cut, a matter of definite questions with definite answers."Religion and technology helped make the search for those answers even easier. In the 1960s, the Mormon Church, which espouses baptism of the dead and encourages its members to research their unbaptized ancestors, opened branch genealogical libraries throughout the country. In the 1970s, these libraries began to receivemore and more non-Mormon patrons.Persnickety pursuitsIn the 1990s, digital technology revolutionized the way large amounts of information could be reproduced, transferred and retrieved. Moving genealogical databases online made it possible for tens of millions more Americans to research their families in the comfort of their own homes. A hobby once dominated by persnickety elites was fully democratized.A few years ago, my father spent a year researching his family roots. At the end of his journey, he presented each of his children with an ornate album containing his findings, which reach back to early 18th century in Chihuahua, Mexico.While I admired the work he had done and thought most of what he had found pretty cool, none of it struck me as having the power to change the way I saw myself in the world. But that was before I looked more closely at the photocopy from the 1900 census he had placed under a laminated sheet.It was then that I discovered that my great-grandfather Federico Rodriguez, who worked as a smelter in a large copper mine in eastern Arizona, had arrived in the USA as early as 1893. Before, I had thought both my mother's and father's families came to the U.S. in the 1910s during the Mexican Revolution. We hadn't known much about the paternal side of my dad's family. Suddenly, there it was: proof that my dad's grandfather was working and raising a family in Arizona 19 years before it became a state of the Union.It's silly I know, but every time I fly to Phoenix now, I'm tempted to get off the plane wearing one of those black Pilgrim hats with buckles. I finally understand why so many millions of Americans love genealogy.Gregory Rodriguez is the founder and publisher of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Imperfect Union column.