taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Monday, January 20, 2003

I never cared about my family tree before: that was something my grandmother worried about, carrying clippings and letters from dying relatives around in a book with gold leaf on the front. She’s gone, now, though, and so’s my dad, and anyway the Internet is here. The next best thing to Googling your friends and acquaintances is Googling your dead relatives. It’s the same kind of idle attempt to connect with the world. Only it seems, oddly enough, to yield more results than Googling living people. There’s dead Bagbys and Chambers and Mears all over the net; and the deader the relative, the better the results.

So I find myself sitting around sometimes looking up my ancestors. I’m not dedicated enough at this (or anything else) to spend more than a couple nights at a time; and my research methods are probably pretty spurious. But I did get this genealogy program, and I entered in everything I could. I got back to the fourth generation: my great-great grandmother. It’s not very impressive. I hardly even know any dates, and one entry is labeled only “Georgiana” (my mother’s great-grandmother, of whom my mother only remembers “she smoked a corncob pipe, and I don’t know her last name.”)

And I keep wondering why I’m doing it anyway. After all, the other people who do this more seriously all seem like terrible dorks. Their webpages scroll endlessly and some of the sites even play little MIDI tunes. I even found one that had a poem about the Bagby family: “Men who stood for what is best, in home, in state, in nation/ Unsoiled by wish for self alone or self aggrandization.” You get the idea. If this is the kind of poetry Bagbys write, I’m disowning them.
My grandmother was kind of dorky too, come to think of it. It might be a Bagby family trait. She was always identifying things that way: “That’s the Bagby in you!” or “That’s the Miller in you!” as though after five generations I have anything in common with the “family”. I probably share more genes with a fruitfly.

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