Monday, September 05, 2005

Genealogy: Not for Snobs

Maybe I should have titled this How I Found A Dragon, but nevermind.
If you've ever done any genealogical research, you soon realize that for every famous ancestor you dig up, you will find an equally abhorent progenitor who buggered goats or something.
Usually the colonial lay-about turns out to be the more interesting.
Quite apart from any dirty details and family secrets, you will discover that the said famous, time-polished ancestor is shared by at least 50,000 other people. At least. Makes that link with Abe Lincoln seem not quite so special, doesn't it? I would like to bitch-slap those who think a famous ancestor makes them superior. I really would. Not for their snottiness, but for their ignorance of context.
The real value to my mind is that genealogy provides you with a backdoor to history. History changes from a remote recitation of dates and facts, in an odd a posteriori way when you find your people had a personal stake in specific events. And a gold mine, incidentally, for writers. Not just in the historical genres. Conflicts transpose and repeat.
You will find that you likely have ancestors on both sides of every significant conflict in history. Sort of tempers your political and religious vanities a bit. Or it should.
Any democrat today who proudly points to Ann Marbury, that champion of religious freedom, in their family tree to imply a tradition of genetic political heroism may be uncomfortable to discover that George Bush is also a cousin and swings from the same tree. Yes, I know that was sneaky, but I couldn't resist. No sobbing, please. Same goes for republican claimants. I hate politics.
Genealogy can give you a personal identification and insight into the migration of peoples and religious and social conflicts.
Especially if you find Mary Dyer, hanged on Boston Common in 1660 for her religious beliefs, or an Huguenot ancestor murdered in New York during a slave revolt and then find that Huguenot records in France suffered from genocidal erasure. If you are only interested in the "begats" and don't research the surrounding circumstances, you miss a lot.
Once you get back beyond Bishop's Transcripts, circa 1500 or so, for English ancestors, it becomes increasingly difficult to verify anything, of course. Herald's Visitations notwithstanding.
One discovers such odd facts just the same. For example, some canny families down-played their social status to visiting officials, remaining obdurately yeoman because they didn't want the added expense that being classified as gentry entailed.
Hmmm. Taxes. One relates. Devious governmental methods. One relates.
You may find, especially if a member of the minor nobility married off a daughter to a rich yeoman family, that you can link some lines back to the Conquest and beyond. Because of inter-marriage over the centuries between the Great Families, the entire medieval world is yours, you have a stake in it, your blood was there. It's your personal family history.
Plantaganets? Sure. Henry II was an extraordinary king, not only for his political reforms and association with the murder of Becket ( that first attempt to separate church and state - which grievously backfired) but also for his numerous bastards. Never forget you probably share that claim of royal ancestry with millions by this time, whether they know it or not.
And never forget that much of this sort of research is entirely unreliable and unprovable by modern birth certificate standards. Burke's is not always - some claim often - correct.
But it's such fun.
You may find King Gorm, the Old, d.c.959, first king of the Vikings, as a reputed ancestor.
This was especially comforting to me in a hysterical sort of way. While I am often dim, I can always claim, tongue firmly in cheek, that I am never gormless.
This is back story, I think. I will get on with the Family Dragon another day.


Robyn said...

Great post. I often hoot over the fact that my husband's family directly descends from both Benjamin Franklin and one of the French revolutionists who manned the guillotine.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Robyn. That's it exactly.
And the names one discovers! Was sadly disappointed not able to link
to a guy by the name of "Preserved Fyshe." Still mournful over that.
Your blog, Robyn. It's so much fun. Please. I want more.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I know just how you feel! We(well my cousin did most of the work)researched the family and my, my, my the people we uncovered!

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Johnny Reb