The merits of knowing your roots

2021-07-09 @Blog

Some years ago, a relative strongly encouraged the exploration of our origins: if for no better reason, to avoid, I paraphrase, the ‘atomization’ of the human species. He spoke generally as well as concretely.

For I’d never taken the time to learn much of the roots of my family beyond casual exchanges pertaining to the last couple of generations.

I sort of imagined the rough outline, though none of the specifics. In fact, I might struggle to even recall the names of my great-grandfathers (intuitable mainly from the grandfathers middle name per the Slavic convention: and even so, not foolproof, the names having undergone alteration for varying causes.)

Though the ‘atomization’ discourse made a strong impact at the time, I ultimately swept the genealogy project aside among the low-priority affairs I’d address in the next 25 years.

Sadly, until recently, I was better acquainted with the lineage of Edward III; or José Arcadio Buendía.

Then I casually came upon newfound knowledge appertaining to one family line. This sudden insight led me to consequently pursue the grand project over the course of a few hectic days. And still ongoing.

Beyond the accumulation of simple data, I also craved for some slick visuals. And as often the case, the tools I use amount to half the motivation. Having remembered the ease of graph creation with the Perl graph-easy plugin, I was eager to generate some genealogy trees. It didn’t disappoint.

Ultimately, what have I so far observed? - beyond my place among the massive conglomerate of 2nd/3rd/4th-degree relatives scattered through various crevices of the world, of whom I know next to nil?

There’s hardly a part of me that might not derive a counterpart in some ancestor. Whatever hobby, profession, or office I have pursued or conceived of as a plausible option, in an abstract sense, had already found employ by some blood predecessor.

One ancestor had been an entrepreneur. Another, a lawyer or a law student (a path I heavily entertained some dozen years prior). One, a botanist of sorts.

One great-grandfather had been a photographer: a profession I might’ve half-seriously entertained among the top-70 candidates 100 years prior, in a world before everyone became a photographer.

One of my grandfathers, whom I learned more about, I effectively consider a superstar combination of military excellence, athletic superiority, and academic talent, the latter of which had been even more rigorously pursued and realized by more recent descendants.

The same grandfather as well as a handful of other ancestors had been involved in aerial careers; some held varying experience in parachuting.

As for me, though never aspired to a life as a paratrooper, I always felt unprecedented nostalgia for this 1980’s PC game. (Don’t all the pieces connect impeccably well?)

Mathematics, chess and applied science had all found professional employ among some ancestor or more. As had music, art and literature. As had pilgrimage to new lands.

What does that render me? Though I hold a more comprehensive outlook of my origins, I still feel starkly atomized: a splicing of little bits and pieces of different ancestors, blended together with a few degrees of supposed novelty (arguably derived, and at an exchange of inferior eyesight and receded hair), and voilà.

None of that upsets me in the slightest. I don’t object to being atomized. I don’t particularly care where I stand on the scale of (non-)determinism, molecularization or transcendent being. Something in the Borges' short story El Inmortal helped reframe this in perspective.

On the upside, the narrative holds enough potential for an evocative Latin-American epic. Should it ever accumulate enough living and breathing raw material, perhaps I’ll hack something together in the next 25 years.

Questions, comments? Connect.