Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Genealogical Menace

Jemima Lewis' grandmother believed that she was "as English as an Englishwoman could possibly be." But then a genealogist came to her door, pedigree in hand.

According to the family tree, her ancestors had come over on the boat with William the Conqueror.

"French!" gasped my scandalised grandmother. It was of no comfort to her that the stranger had also contrived, in the usual way, to link us to Prince Charles. The Windsors, being German, were even further beyond the pale.

The family tree was filed in the dustbin, and the hard-working stranger - thereafter only referred to as "That Menace" - was rewarded with a thunderous silence. At times, myths matter more than the facts. [Link]
Lewis concludes that genealogy, "with its insistence on proof and historical accuracy, is often antithetical to the oral traditions that bind us to the past." I would conclude that it is antithetical to bigotry and provincialism, and can be the source of fresh traditions that bind us to the past. But, to be honest, I do engage in genealogical research mostly just to scandalize old ladies.

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