So. It’s a New Year. But one thing hasn’t changed: I’m a rather compulsive sort of a guy. And what’s the worst thing on earth that can be done to an obsessive compulsive? Introduce them to ancestry.com. So far, I estimate I’m roughly 1/4th done with my geneaology, having lost several dozen hours of sleep and several pounds from not eating.
I’ve learned some interesting things. First, it seems that my great grandparents on my mother’s side came from classy, classy stock. Half of the family were Jewish merchants from the Netherlands, who seem to have wanted to get out of that place ASAP because they got to the US in the 1600s. It is extremely satisfying to see “New Amsterdam” listed as a birthplace. Anyway, they seem to have a family tradition of building up a class, to become Sherrif of wherever or Colonel of something, only to have their children sqaunder it and a generation later be shit farmers. That’s happened like 8 times. The other half were a mix of Belgians and Britons.
As for the Britons, I’m not sure how far I buy that. There’s one or two sort of vague links where things get real hazy, but then you break through to one famous guy who can trace his lineage back to the Harcourts or something. So, two strong family trees with one shady link in between? It’s hard to separate out genealogical fact from someone’s fancy. If it’s true, though, I can get my ancestry back to at least 895 via Mr. Eadwulf Singleton. I, apparently, am also a little bit of royalty. According to ancestry.com, I am a direct descendant of the Third Early of Fartshire, Poopington, England. I’m not sure how much I trust that.
Fun side note: Every single one of my progenitors for several hundred years in the middle ages was born in Britain, and died in Picardie, France. Was there some sort of family feud? And after several generations, didn’t we realize we weren’t going to win? What on earth convinced Sir Hugh de Risley to think “well yes, four generations of my forefathers died in France, but I think if I go, things will end up different?” Oh! that reminds me. One guy died in Jerusalem during the first Crusade. That ain’t nothing to put on a commercial, ancestry.com. I’m descended from Barbarians. Fantastic.
Anyway, the interface is terrible. You have to add each mother and father by hand, and sometimes it gives you stupid, stupid, stupid options just because other people have done so. Some ancestors are listed as their own father. Some of my female ancestors died 10 years before their children were born. Some gave birth at the age of 12. So on and so forth.
What’s really struck me is the sense of overwhelming isolation. I mean, sure, I can trace myself backwards to a bunch of Belgians/Netherlanders. But if I were to meet my great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather, Pauwel Pauwelson van Aeysdale, late of Neurkiirk Belgium, what would we talk about? Not a thing, I tell you. Sure I’m a direct descendant, but these people might as well be strangers. Symon Janse van Arsedalen came to the New World in 1653 aboard the Dynasty in order to set up a kiln for china manucature? Super. I guess.
Anyway. Ancestry.com apparently also only works if you’re white. My mother’s british/belgish side of the family has records going back to the very dawn of time. On my father’s side, there’s not hide nor hair of anyone. Apparently the hairier, pierogie-eating races of the earth aren’t as fastidious about filling out their census and baptismal paperwork as the Dutch.