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  • The Fascination of Genealogy

    F. H. R.

    Published Date : June 1985
    Erik Erikson says that in all of us there is at play both a sense of individuality, of being unlike anyone who has ever existed before, and a sense of being part of a continuity. The combination of these two Erikson calls a “sense of identity.”

    Robert Hillyer uses a poet’s idiom to make the same point. In his “Assembling the Family” he pictures himself as walking through a cemetery at night. Suddenly his forebears’ ghosts appear and start to look him over.

    “Go back to sleep!” he shouts at them. “Ha, ha! There speaks my temper,” says one. Another comments, “His constitution’s of the best. I gave him that.” “Oh bosh, Old Puritan,” sneers a fumy ghost, “he has my gout.” The others rush in: “He has my sense of humor,” “my hands,” “that brown hair,” “my wit,” “the kind heart.” Finally they all join: “He’s plagiaristically familiar! There’s not one particle we dead ones can’t account for.” “Oh yes there is,” cries Hillyer. “What?” “I’ll tell you when I join you.” The ghosts fade into the moonlight.


    Genealogists leave to Erikson and his fellow analysts, to biographers, to the often even more penetrating analysis of village gossip, the uniqueness of the individuals who become their subjects, although it cannot escape attention that all of them at one time or another get around to genealogical influences.

    Genealogists are interested in the “ghosts” that live in all of us.

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