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Visit these other humorous sites by Marjorie Dorfman:

Eat, Drink and
Really Be Merry


Home Is Where
the Dirt Is


Middle Age
and Other Mistakes

Don't Tech Me In

What's New, Emu?

Laughing Matters Ink

I Was Absent


Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003.
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ancestorsFamily Trees: How Far Does the Apple Really Fall?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Have you ever yearned to know the truth about where your ancestors really came from? Did they sail over to Ellis Island in steerage, survive the trip on slave ships, or arrive aboard the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock? Sometimes, what you do know can hurt you and it’s better to leave pedigrees the way you found them, alone and shrouded in mystery. Read on for some clues about who is really who and why.



I do not know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.   – Abraham Lincoln

Knowing where one comes from can be but isn’t necessarily a moot or philosophical issue, such as in the case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Uncovering one’s roots and traditions and even that which sometimes was better off covered, (i.e., knowing whether you are either the chicken or the egg), should be a comfortable feeling, like slipping into a favorite armchair. Understanding one’s medical history reaps its own obvious advantages. Remember, however, that it is one’s own unique contribution to this planet that counts in the long run. Living out the good or bad accomplished by one’s ancestors can have disastrous consequences. Stepping and/or resting on one’s laurels can make one forget that hidden mines may lie underneath!

heraldryI once had a boss whose pedigree could only be classified as "Lace Curtain Irish." No chintz or polyester was he or any member of his immediate family. I will call him Mr. O’Hara, just in case some of his relatives may still be on this side of the sod and reading this article. So impressed was Mr. O’Hara with his ancestors who were supposedly related to St. Patrick and his grandfather who had caroused among the marble nymphs at San Simeon with William Randolph Hearst himself, that there seemed no bottom to his sense of family pride and tradition. I am not knocking these things. They have their place, like family silver, in the china cabinets of our lives. Inflated pride, however, is like a tire filled with too much air; its very nature predicts explosion.

I have my own little name for this particular variant of self-righteousness. I call it "Ness". It’s not a lush Loch in Scotland hiding some fearful, floating monster, nor does it chase Al Capone through the streets of 1930s Chicago. It is an undue pride about being born, and that’s is something no one ever asks to be! (Hence, Americanness, Hapsbourgness, Romanovness, Protestantness, Germanness, Irishness, Greekness, Hungarianness, Catholicness, Moslemness, Jewishness, Italianness. What a ness! Need I go on?)

ancestryMr. O’Hara hired a genealogist to trace his family’s origins back to the very first family member to set foot on American soil. (We all suspected Calvin Klein.) He even ordered a scroll in a gilded frame and a family crest plaque, both of which he planned to hang in his state-of-the-art living room (until dead) for all adoring lower lives to admire from a respectful distance. He told everyone about it and how much it cost (500 dollars for the lineage and the same for the scroll. The plaque with the crest was on special, $250 if purchased on a rainy Saturday in March of a leap year.) When the genealogist finished his report, everyone in the office waited with bated breath for the brags and boasts about gilded, satin-clad ancestors. But Mr. O’Hara wasn’t talking and although everyone wondered why, no one dared to broach the subject first.

A day or two later, Mr. O’Hara came into my office and sat down squarely in front of me. His dour expression made me think that I had done something wrong, but I was mistaken. He was ready to talk about his family tree. It seems that the first O’Hara related directly to him came to America with many other Irish immigrants shortly after the Potato Famine of 1848. Soon thereafter, the young man was hung as a horse thief. It was later established that his only progeny, a son, grew up to be a cohort of the infamous James Brothers and was, in fact, the mastermind behind one of the biggest train robberies ever executed in the American West. He then rose and left my office, closing the door with some difficulty as his tail was caught somewhere between his legs.

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Don't miss this excellent book:

Finding Your Roots Online

by Nancy Hendrickson

Finding Your Roots Online

While other guidebooks to online genealogy provide a multitude of Web sites, none of them tells readers how to use and analyze the sites themselves. This book is the first to offer readers a step-by-step reference for using the Internet effectively in genealogical research.


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