There is nothing more fun to me than searching through some quaint and curious
volume of forgotten lore that just might contain information on my ancestors
-- or even your ancestors. I'll admit that I'm most interested in my own,
but yours are fascinating, too. The greatest value of genealogy to
me is that it puts a face on history. Instead of memorizing this date
and that battle as I had to do in high school, finding out about ancestors
puts me in touch with the real people who lived through those times and had
to fight the battles.
It also gives me a sense of where I stand in the universe. There's
a sense of both smallness and greatness in myself when I look over the people
who inhabit my ancestry, not unlike the feeling I get when I look up at the
stars on a clear night. The smallness comes from the realization that
I am only one in a huge crowd of people -- those who are here now and those
who came before. (It seems that my ancestors were a prolific lot and
there are many descendants out there. I love finding a new cousin in
my email.) The greatness comes when I realize that
all those folks from before created me as I am now.
It gives a feeling of continuity with the earth. Without looking at
who came before, all each of us has is our threescore and ten or however
long we manage to stay here. But, in looking back, we have hundreds
of years to which we are connected. Sometimes it can be a little creepy.
Each of us make decisions, large and small every day that have an effect
on our lives. Had even one of my ancestors made just one different decision,
I might not be here -- or at least I wouldn't have been the same person I
am now. And then there are those little quirks of fate that can make such
a difference. Antony Thacher could very well have drowned with the rest of
the passengers on the Watch and Wait back in 1635. John Howland could
have missed grabbing onto the rope when he was washed overboard on the
Mayflower in 1620. Who knows what other near misses there were with
other ancestors which could have changed the lives of all of their descendants?
However, I take exception with those who would use genealogy as a status
symbol. Just because one's ancestors were important people does not
mean that importance passes on through the generations. As with most
people's ancestries, I'm sure, mine has its share of saints and sinners.
There are folks here from the Mayflower, others who came much more
recently and, it appears, at least one who was in America before any of them
showed up. There are some said to descend from royalty and others who
were servants. (I wonder if some of those servants weren't descended from
royalty.) There are men of the cloth who came to save the souls of the
native inhabitants and fellow immigrants. (I'll let you decide for yourself
whether that was a noble cause.) There are others who were more interested
in their own well-being than that of their fellows. Most were just
plain folk who lived their lives as best they could. If we claim greatness
based on who our illustrious forebears were and what they did, we must also
claim the ignomy that comes with ancestors who were scoundrels and the plainness
of the rest of them. I claim none of it. I'll admit that I find the
scoundrels more interesting than the saints, but what any of them did with
their lives has no bearing on who I am now.
Enough of the soap box. Let's get to some genealogy!!