Genealogy is a popular hobby today. There are numerous websites that, for a fee, grant you access to countless databases full of census records, burial plots, and newspaper archives. Many are excited, and rightfully so, about learning where they came from as an aid to self-knowledge.
On the other hand, such enthusiasm leads me to ask about the ethics involved in such interest. What are people’s deeper motivations? No doubt many will be looking for some trace of blue blood, some Duke or Baron who’s long dead title they might use to enhance their fragile sense of self-worth, and at the same time, flout in their neighbor’s faces as a flag of superiority. Americans, for all their talk of democracy and equality, are always ready to salute a king when the sentiment is right (just look at the current obsession with Prince William’s wedding). No doubt the sign of an age grown tired of its lack of dreams, and longing for an age of action over mere profit margins. But, what if what they find is a shade darker than blue? What if what they find they would rather keep to themselves than trumpet from the rooftops?
I have often found it puzzling how many claim decent from Jesse James. How ever his admirer’s seek to justify his action’s, his character was little more than that of a cold calculating killer. Some of this is obviously tinged with racist sympathies, and the sepia color of sentiment which time casts upon all human actions. Yet, a murderer he remains in what ever light you view him.
Historians are charged never to judge the past by present values. A task perhaps easier to follow with professional objectivity, but not one so easy to accept when kin are involved. Then the merely antiquarian becomes a matter for family and, sometimes, national pride. Take the example of Vlad Tepes. For over a hundred years to the West he was the boogeyman called Dracula. To Romanians he is counted as one of the father’s of their country, with no less a comparison being drawn then with George Washington. Still, a stake, I mean line, must be drawn.
Whatever we are, and whatever we may become, will always be a mixture of water and wine. The water of our genetic and material inheritance with which we are born, and the stronger wine of personality and character we fashion through our action’s. We are not our father’s nor our mother’s children, but the sum of all their folly’s and all their wisdom, the choice is ours to which we lay claim. Ancestry is like an inheritance to which we add our contribution then pass the plate. We take the good with the bad that is given to us, but through the choices of our life we choose which pile gets the lion’s share, and what riches, if any, are left to those who follow.