WikiTree is a web-based, free genealogy site. I’m too busy these days to do much digging, but it’s hard not to stop and consider it once in a while. Some years back I put some family information on it, and every great now and again—I don’t have a sense for the timing—I get notices that include “degrees of separation.” It seems I’m always about twenty-some degrees removed from famous people. In August they were featuring aviators. I’m about as close to Orville Wright as I am to Amelia Earhart. Then there was Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, better known as “the Red Baron.” What always surprises me about these charts is that they never follow the path you’d expect. My ancestry is about half German, but Richthofen is attached through the other half, predominantly Celtic. As my wife pointed out, we must all be about this far removed from each other.
Genealogy can be enticing. It’s got an air of mystery and discovery about it. I suspect many of us hope we’ll find that we’re connected to someone famous, even if we never meet them. My cousins remember visiting Melvin Purvis’ house when they were kids. An ancestor of that generation was married to his sister. But what of all those who never become well known? Are they any less important because they don’t have books written about them, or movies that feature them? Isn’t simply connection enough? And the matter of being connected can often heal wounds. It’s harder to hate someone whose house or childhood you shared. This is a profound lesson from looking at how humans have loved each other. We tend to get fixated on the mechanics, but it seems to me that the love is the important part.
I’m not a statistician, but I find that genealogy helps me feel connected. We are all, of course, connected at some level. That’s one reason it’s so distressing to see the hatred being carefully nurtured by our government for political ends. Black lives do matter. They are connected to white lives in often unexpected ways. Despite what 45 says, race is a human construct only. We are all human and we each have inherent worth and dignity. This isn’t rocket science. Good leadership brings together. Poor leadership divides. So my twenty-something-th cousin was flying around shooting down airplanes in World War One. My other twenty-something-th cousin was trying to show that women can do just what men can do. Which is a better model to follow? It’s the one that promotes love.