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By definition, roots are the underground organ system for plants that take in nutrients and water, lending strength and stability to the plant. In genealogy, "roots" is a metaphor for one's ancestry. The term is commonly associated with the family tree metaphor used to describe family relationships. Just as roots give life to the plant or tree, so do ancestors give life to their descendants, who draw from them physical traits and family characteristics.

A person's roots may also refer to the family's place of origin, or its social or cultural heritage. Alex Haley's 1976 book Roots, which chronicled the author's African ancestry, is often credited as the influencing popular interest in the study of genealogy or the study of one's roots.

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