Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Your Relatives are not Famous, and Neither are Mine.

Have you ever noticed how those people who believe in reincarnation were always someone famous in their past lives? They were a King, or a Martyr, or some other historical figure of great importance. I've had several people tell me they were Henry V, or Charlemagne, or even someone like Anne Boleyn in their previous life. They're never a serf, or a slave. They're never someone of dubious history, or someone downright evil. No one has ever, to my knowledge, claimed to be Genghis Khan, or Rasputin, or Robespierre. No one has ever claimed to be Hitler reincarnated.

The same is true of many family historians. They love to claim famous ancestors. So much so, that many so called genealogists actually doctor their family trees to support the tie to a legendary individual, instead of acknowledging that most of us are descended from the shoulders on which great men stood, rather than the great men themselves.

Case in point: Several nights ago I was at a dinner with a group of friends. A friend and I were discussing genealogy when another friend interrupted with the story of his supposedly researched family tree. Turns out this man sitting at that very dinner table was related to two Medieval Kings! Imagine! And incidentally, they were two kings that weren't related to each other! Imagine how blue the blood is in his veins! Wow. Of course, when asked how exactly they connect to my friend, he is unsure, even if it's on his father or mother's side.

Here's the thing, the vast majority of Americans tend to claim English royalty in their lineage, but there have been only 69 rulers of England, and only 40 since the Normans invaded in 1066. By contrast, there have been 44 United States Presidents.

We all want to be important, and genealogy is popular in the United States because we have a desire to find out where we came from. Humans are social and want to associated with a community, and we want to produce, or be, something of value to our world.

I'm like everyone else. I would love to find someone great in my family tree. I'd love to be related to a King, or an Indian Princess, or even a United States President-- preferably a well respected and loved one. However, to doctor my tree to create the illusion of a famous relative is dishonest, and I would always know it's not true. A hollow win isn't really a win at all, and it diminishes what so many of our other ancestors did do, which was to create a new life for themselves in a new, uncharted world. That's pretty legendary, even if their names are not remembered by the masses.

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