Genealogy is one of those things that’s fascinating as long as it’s yours. It’s not hard to lose a few (or many) hours, trying to find ancestral connections. When someone you don’t know begins to tell you, however, about other people you’ve never heard of, your eyes begin to glaze over. My wife kindly gave me a gift of a local genealogy class that we attended the other day. Along with some dozen others we gathered to learn some tricks of the trade. The presenter began by having us introduce ourselves, “briefly.” It’s a dangerous move in a genealogical crowd. A few of our fellow students went into great detail about their ancestors, forgetting, for the moment, that we were there to learn how to do the research, not to find out about their families. It’s a natural enough mistake.
None of us ask to be born, and we spend our lives wondering why we are here. How did our parents meet? Where were they from? What did they do? And the generation before that? Some time ago I figured out that, due to the exponential nature of ancestors, that by the time you get back to just eight “greats” before for your grandparents, it took over a thousand people to make you. It boggles the mind. Suddenly it seems as if there would never be enough chance encounters or arranged marriages or tumbles in the hay for you to ever get here. So many ancestors! By the time I was in college I’d managed to trace it back to almost sixteen family names. I was able to break through a barrier on this just over a year ago when talking to some family members about a lost ancestor at the turn of the twentieth century. Genealogy is a search for meaning.
Both my wife and I share this interest. Of the dozen or so others at the session, four others were married couples. Almost all of us had done the voluntary DNA test to find our nations of origins—to confirm or deny family stories. And that’s what it’s really about: stories. Although we may be squeamish about some aspects, we want to know where we came from, the story of how we arrived here. As if there’s some cosmic clue in it that gives us information on why we’re here. It brought several of us out on a February afternoon. We didn’t know each other. If we traced back far enough, however, we would have found we were all related. We are all family.