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 isnt necessarily a moot or philosophical issue, such as in the case of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Uncovering ones 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 ones medical history reaps its own obvious advantages. Remember, however, that it is ones own unique contribution to this planet that counts in the long run. Living out the good or bad accomplished by ones ancestors can have disastrous consequences. Stepping and/or resting on ones laurels can make one forget that hidden mines may lie underneath!
I 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. OHara, just in case some of his relatives may still be on this side of the sod and reading this article. So impressed was Mr. OHara 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". Its 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 thats 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?)
Mr. OHara hired a genealogist to trace his familys 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. OHara wasnt talking and although everyone wondered why, no one dared to broach the subject first.
A day or two later, Mr. OHara 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 OHara 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.