Sunday, May 3, 2015


Genealogy has become sort of a craze, being hyped as something everyone should want to pursue. There’s a TV commercial showing Modern Day Jane tracing her lineage back to someone standing near someone who looks like Abraham Lincoln. Is this important?  I don’t understand. Suppose you trace your family back several centuries and discover that your great-great-great-great whatever was court secretary to the Margrave of Zuttgenstein. What then? 

Besides, if you go back far enough and cast your net widely enough, the odds are pretty good you’re going to come up with someone you’d just as soon not claim as a relative. Conditions were rough back in the early days and people did what they had to do. If that necessitated obliterating the neighbors, a massacre by one of your ancestors might just be the seminal event that established your line as a respectable family. Want to chance that? Once you’re in, you don’t get to pick and choose.

I suppose there might be the occasional pleasant surprise where you find you’re related, however distantly, to someone admirable. Whether that gives you bragging rights several generations later  is a question, though, or should be. 

All I know on the subject  is what I heard in casual family conversation. My mother’s family landed at Ellis Island from the old country in the first few year of the 20th century. Whether it was fortuitous or they knew something in their bones, it turned out a good move. From what I’ve read about WWII, even the Nazis were impressed by the enthusiasm with which Romanians went after their Jewish neighbors.  Had the Leibas hesitated 40 years, I and others wouldn’t be around to write or read this.

One more reason for not bothering about genealogy: for a lot of people it would only dissolve into the “nacht und nebel” of 1940s Europe.