Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Seductive Genealogy

For about a week this month I was bitten hard by the genealogy bug. It's seductive—so much information on the Internet! In just a few days I traced one line back to 1790 in Germany. I was able to see (online) actual photographs of two of my great-great grandparents' gravestones, one written in Hebrew. I've stopped for now. To go any further would involve paying to join one of the genealogy websites, which I'm not ready to do at this point. I also don't want to spend a lot of time on it right now. But it's so much fun........kind of like a mystery you solve bit by bit.

I discovered that my great-great-grandfather is the great-great-great-grandfather of Nigella Lawson, the famous (and very beautiful) British chef. And I was very excited to find this photograph of my grandfather the opera singer in the New York Public Library's Performing Arts collection online. I sprung for a $50 enlargement, which I'll frame myself. I have other pictures of him in costume, but I'm sure the quality of this print will be excellent.

After doing this, for the first time I fully appreciate how large a pyramid of ancestors stands behind each of us. The numbers double with every generation . . . two sets of grandparents . . . four sets of greats . . . eight sets of great-greats . . . 16 sets of great x 3, etc. When you follow one line, as I've been doing, it's easy to say, "He was my great-great grandfather" and see the direct connection between us. But then I remember that I have seven other great-great-grandfathers that I never heard of.

PS: If you're wondering how we got from my grandfather's black hair to Jill's (and my) blonde, it's like this: The handsome Jewish baritone married the lovely blonde Scottish Presbyterian soprano. (They met on stage.) They had two children, a gorgeous daughter with his hair and a handsome son with hers. The handsome son was my dad.


Jenny Hill said...

I love that photo. It is fun to go piggybacking through years of genealogy to come up with closer connections.

Indigo Bunting said...

Fabulous. And thanks for the reminder of the staggering number that went before us.

crystal said...

Great photo :-) You're really a good detective - I tried to look back at my family a few years ago on the net but couldn't find much at all. We're just an obscure bunch, I guess, or I didn't know the right places to look?

Helen said...

I don't either (know the right places to look) but this post has inspired to try again.

Susan said...

www.cyndislist.com is one place to start, although since it lists everything it can be a tad overwhelming. Census information is useful (and fascinating); look for that. Distantcousin.com has some good stuff, including City Directories that list occupations as well as addresses. Often no listings for phone numbers . . . Can you imagine? It wasn't that long ago when there were no phones. Our predecessors managed to survive their entire lives without computers, cell phones, Blackberries, and SUVs.

Helen said...

Thanks Susan.

I'm surviving without 3 of those!