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The fashion for genealogy


I refer to the genealogy websites and TV programmes that I’ve recently noticed which are serving a desire among an increasing number of people to delve into their past and draw up family trees. Whence this increasing interest? Is it from a suspicion that one may be descended from some noble lord or be an heir to some unclaimed fortune or tract of land? I wonder rather if it comes out of a need to “belong” and to have a sense of identity in our increasingly fragmented society. I confess I’ve entertained a passing interest in my own roots – investigating the etymology of my name and where it originated, for example. Did we perform any daring deeds or have an infamous past? Not that I could find. Anyway it was a passing phase and I realised that it can be demoralising to discover how uninteresting and distinctly hum-drum your ancestry is. Or rather, it says something about your own sense of self-worth if you do find it demoralising. I have an unusual name, I suppose. It might be a corruption of another name. Or it might mean – from the Gaelic – that I’m a swarthy cabbage, or some such. Could I care less?

Well, no. This was brought home to me when some long-lost cousins started some overtures about rekindling family fires when I met them at an uncle’s funeral a few years ago. I hadn’t seen or heard from these cousins for decades. So why this sudden appeal to blood-ties? It beats me. I don’t recall any interest taken in me by these elder cousins when I was a child. And I certainly didn’t feel any affinity now. In any event, their approaches then, and phone calls later, didn’t instil any desire to re-tie bonds that seemed hardly to exist in the first place. In fact, I felt a growing hostility and a feeling that my privacy was being invaded. Thankfully, my continued lukewarm responses finally conveyed my lack of interest since the phone calls stopped after a time. I must have seemed rude. Could I care less?

Well, no.

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