“Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond–James Bond–you best spend your free time painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began—with a wheeze.”
—Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006)
“Let that beautiful custom of all the provinces of the East and of Italy be kept up, viz., that of singing with great effect and compunction the ‘Kyrie Eleison’ at Mass, Matins, and Vespers, because so sweet and pleasing a chant, even though continued day and night without interruption, could never produce disgust or weariness”.
—Council of Vaison (529)
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Why even start at all? Really, why do people reconstruct their family trees? And what would draw people to even read or look at a family tree chart?
1. Not surprisingly–but sadly–the most common reason is we want to see if we are related to important people. This connection, of course, is also what is interesting about your tree for other people. Otherwise, it is only the whole book a list of names.
But is this finally the reason you are going to make your family tree—so other people can marvel at your connections? Connections? Dead people we haven’t achieved closure with, haven’t thanked enough, haven’t gotten forward from, haven’t really buried?
2. The second reason is more practical. Quite a lot reconstruct their family tree to pursue a legal claim. The search would establish and prove one’s lineage to an ancestral inheritance. Of course, the records need to be certified, and the family tree would just be a nice by-product of that legal search.
3. But still, enough people make up a third group, and include me here—people who are not deterred by an obvious lack of kings, of presidents, of titled people in the tree—or the daunting prospect of a pitiable 1/250th share in an estate.
In fact, when I started my tree, I knew there were no VIPs, except for only one who was himself known by that name—me. What drove me this past decade to try to fill in the blanks?
As I gathered and began to put down names and birthdays on my very first outlines, I felt a kinship developing between me and these ordinary names, for indeed they were after all my ancestors, and thus my family; gosh, blood of my blood, as they say.
I decided that: Yes, I’m going to make my family tree. And my reasons are not the kings or even the Dons who are not there, but for ordinary people to be remembered by their own family. Kings and presidents do not need a family tree; it is their relatives who need to establish their kinship to these great men.
But my family tree would be a tree not of a king, but of the family. I am going to make my tree so the members of my family will know the names of their great-grandparents, and their great-great-grandparents. A simple family bond. It is the anito tradition, the communion of saints. Perchance, reading the names in our family tree can become our litany, our Kyrie.
But, gee, the Kyrie has its Christe. Mozart or Matisse would have been bonus already.