Thursday, June 21, 2012


I have a cousin in Virginia that I correspond with.  She has become interested in family history and begun tracing her ancestors.   Being a nihilist (and a know-it-all) I wrote to her of the futility and inherent false results of such effort. 

To begin with ancestors multiply at an exponential rate.   In non-mathematical language you have two parents, four grand parents, eight great grand parents, sixteen great great grand parents: then thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred and twenty eight…..etc.   Your kind ship dilutes by one half with each succeeding generation you trace back to. (Never end a sentence with a preposition – fuck the rules.)   Ten generations back you are equally kin to two thousand and forty-eight ancestors; and if you carry it back to twenty generations – over two million. 

At what point does the gene pool so diluted that you are realistically no longer kin?  

Probably, most people try to track their paternal name.   This also is an inexact effort.   This day and age, with birth control, women have fewer children and are freer to have sex without consequences.   Now, it has been my experience that married women are more likely to be receptive to a one night (one week, one month) dalliance with no commitment than single women.   After being married for a few years, and having your husband with his back to you in bed let out a fart, you might say the bloom has left the roses.   Women like to feel they are still sexually attractive and an exciting tryst with one of the husband’s friends is probably more common in marriage than admitted. 

A few generations back (pre-birth control) pregnancies that occurred from such unions were easily covered up by the wife telling her husband, “Look dear, he has your nose.”   And, when a child stood out from the rest of the brood she could say, “He looks like my side of the family.”

This is the point of Chaos theory: there are chance variables in every situation that can change the results. 

There is no way of knowing at what point in your track you will run into an ancestor “born on the other side of the bed.”     At that point, though the name continues, the blood tie (as small as it is likely to be) has been derailed. 

This day and age the above scenario may sound unlikely, but in earlier time this was not uncommon.  

As per my earlier post:  I was raised by my grandmother, who I thought was my mother.   One of my sisters was actually my mother and my other sisters and brothers were my uncles and aunts.   When my grandmother took me she didn’t like the name on my birth certificate so she changed it.   She also didn’t like my birth date so she changed that to a war memorial holiday (probably so she could remember it.)   I grew up as an alias.  I never found out about this until I was nineteen and tried to obtain a birth certificate to join the Navy and discovered I did not exist.  

Generations ago I am sure that many parents raised children of their daughters under similar circumstances, giving them their sir name.  Besides me, I know of two more just in my family (Of course you realize I am of the south.)   At any rate this makes following a paternal name speculative at best.  

For myself, I don’t count my heritage any further than my birth.   I know where I am from: the Mississippi Delta.


  1. Genealogy is only part of it. Lots of us are interested in the movements of peoples and the family history. The first person with my surname came to Ireland from England under Cromwell in the mid-1600s. As a reward for services rendered, he was given land confiscated from an Irish "rebel". One of my Grandmother's uncles ran off at 15 to south Africa and ended up fighting with the Boers against the Brits. My brother tracked that wing of the family down a few years back and they learned more about their history. Finding out you are descended from a whore and a horse thief both hanged at high noon in the square of ____ is not the worst that can happen.

  2. I was following along, with interest, your ideas about genealogy and the diluting of the gene pool but when I got to the part about your own identity, my mouth gawped open. What an amazing story. Maybe more common than I think but, wow. Blew me away.

  3. I'm so slow on the uptake with anything genealogical that it takes me 30 minutes just to figure out how one has a sister for a mother. I mean how the links work, not how it happens. For some reason I really don't care who my relatives are past my great grandparents and they are only a vague curiosity.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."