JB and I have been putting together a family tree and one thing I’ve learned about Ancestry.com is that using it is sort of like falling into a genealogical rabbit hole where you become obsessed with adding distant relatives until you have a branch that just reads “CRO MAGNON NAMED GROG.” We’ve each spent hours and hours on this thing, which has become a sprawling map of hundreds and hundreds of strangers whose lives are utterly mysterious, save for what small amount of data is available. Births, marriages, children, deaths. All these lives reduced to a collect of beige-colored boxes and lines connecting everyone together.
There’s something called the pedigree view where you can look at the flow chart of your lineage: your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. It is a nearly dizzying sight, to view this graph and try to imagine the complicated series of chance encounters and choices and moments that led to my own existence.
My father’s side is entirely unknown to me; an exotic arrangement of names like Jacinta and Piedad and Vallolita, nearly every single person in New Mexico by way of Spain and Portugal. My grandmother’s family came from Innerwick, Scotland—the Rentons, full of Williams and James—to Belleville, Michigan. Boxes and names stretching back into the 17th century, all these invisible people in some way responsible for the fact that I sit here now, typing.
Strange. And stranger still, in a way, to think of all the might-have-beens. My first marriage, an uneventful dissolution of branches and paths and outcomes. Like some sort of bizarre Polaroid: as that partnership disappears, all those years ago, the eventual vision of my children comes into view. They aren’t directly connected but without one you cannot have the other.
It is soothing, in a way I suppose is not unlike faith, to believe that I am connected to something bigger than myself; at the same time I look at it and feel the inexorable, uncaring progress of time. People live and die so quickly, my god. Lights that blink on and off. Everything they do and achieve, eventually forgotten.
It’s like the juxtaposition of reality and a parent’s view of the world. Where one angle shows everything represented in the same sort of way, and in the other, the entire contents of the universe aligned in order to create to the two little boxes below your name. You can’t help thinking, everything led to this. Everything should somehow stay like this forever.