Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekend wonderings: Is genealogy patriotic?

I see some tension between genealogy and patriotism, since genealogy is mainly about families.
And of course relatives have a way of crossing national lines and taking up arms with Tecumseh or Loyalists or Confederates or Viet Cong.

To the extent that genealogy is about the nation(s) ancestors lived in and fought for, no nation that I am aware of deserves uncritical admiration. Understanding and analysis and respect, yes. But not the kind of patriotism that led the DAR to blackball Jane Addams in the 1920s -- more like the kind that now includes her in their on-line hall of fame of "Dazzling Daughters."

The issue is difficult because genealogy also has roots in the desire to idolize our forebears and make their stories pretty prologues leading to the wonderful climax which is us. My great-great-grandfather's first cousin, Walter Thrall -- an Ohio probate judge and early genealogist -- seems to have taken this view. He wrote, We should cherish with grateful recollection the memory of parents, and follow their good advice and example, forgetting their foibles and errors [emphasis added]” -- a viewpoint that does not sit well with the objectivity demanded by today's Genealogical Proof Standard

Obviously this is a personal question to which everyone may have a different answer. What's yours?

James Weber Linn, Jane Addams: A Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 214; searchable on Google Books.

Walter Thrall, ed. Edward G. Randall, Genealogy of the Thrall Family, also of the Rose Family, to the Year 1862 (Poultney, VT: Randall Brothers, 1890), 4; digital image, ( : accessed 3 July 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Weekend Wonderings: Is Genealogy Patriotic?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 July 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Ron Darrah said...

I always think the best way to approach your genealogy is that "it is what it is-warts and all." You can't change it, so you might learn from it. With modern imaging and databases, you also will have a hard time sweeping it under the rug!

Ron Darrah

Sonja Hunter said...

I agree that we need to include the good with the bad, otherwise it's not really the truth, is it? When I write about my ancestors and other relatives I include both, but try to reserve judgement. After all, I only know so much about their lives. Besides, these people would be much less interesting if there weren't a few skeletons in the closet. And yes, I have found some relatives behaving badly.
Interesting about Jane Adams and the DAR. I just finished listening to "20 Years at Hull House."

Harold said...

Well said, Ron and Sonja. Thanks for your thoughts.