Thursday, February 15, 2007

What Am I Looking For?

I mentioned in my post on genealogy and DNA my brief attempt to try and discover Chris and John-Adrian’s ancestry beyond the parents’ names on their birth certificate. The parents are recorded as being born in Sârbi and Spinuş,in Bihor County of Transylvania. This accords with the boys’ memories of life in Derna, a nearby town. They have some impression that the family has been centered on Derna for at least a few generations.

When I read anything about the area in another context I always look for those village names. They only show up in writings about mining development and Holocaust studies. In reading about the Jews from Transylvania sent to Auschwitz in the Final Solution in 1944, the name pops up: Derna (Hungarian Felsőderna), Jews sent to the ghetto in Oradea.

Am I wondering if their grandparents participated somehow? It’s unlikely, as they were probably born between 1925-1940. Am I concerned about the great-grandparents, then? Am I worried that some Pîrcalab is going to suddenly show in the record as some particularly despised betrayer? What would it matter? The reality of their immediate ancestry is bad enough – what would be added by discovering violent, selfish evil plus nototiety?

Their forebears are almost illusory to me. Gheorghe and Irina are still alive last we heard, but very ill: 49 going on 94. A grandmother, Viturca, is still alive. The boys have only the haziest memories of them, and I of course have no picture in my mind at all.

I have evil enough in my own blood ancestry; starting with my own father. And y'know, I'm not so great myself? Would it affect anything about me if my two miserably irresponsible great-grandfathers turned out to have even worse sins in the record? Not a whit. Why, then, would I see any significance in Romanian great-grandfathers? Perhaps it is merely the mystery, the fact that two boys appear in an orphanage, with little context even in their own country, and I want some narrative. What narrative could there be? Peasants in Crişana; life is hard.

This illusory nature of our inheritence flows in the other direction, toward our posterity as well. If I am fortunate enough to have grandchildren and to know them, I will likely care about them deeply. They exist only in theory, yet I like them already. But their children? I am a great believer in handing on one’s culture, and in particular one’s faith. We put up a time capsule to be opened in 2100. Medical improvements being what they are, it is just possible that one of my children will be there to open and explain. More likely it will be a grandchild, who may or may not remember us. Certainly, they won’t summarize with much accuracy. A few scraps of stories will be woven into some narrative of who Tracy and I were. Even great-grandchildren will be older than I am now by then.

Who can tell which of our values they will have? If we knew them we might not much approve of them. If they are not Christians, in what sense are they really our descendants? Jesus pointed out in his typically radical way: who are my mother and brothers? Those who do my will. I don’t have the spiritual clarity to see things that way. My sons are my sons. Their children will seem something of an extension of this family. But one step further, peering into the middle-aged lives of my grandchildren and beyond? These are not my “mother and brothers.” Those who follow Christ, whether or not they have my name or blood, are our true posterity. If I take a smaller bite at the concept like that, I can see what Jesus meant.

We picture ourselves moving through the world in some definite context of family, or country, of profession or culture, but these fade quickly. Even for someone like me, morbidly considering the birth and death of generations and tracing some threads, the earthly context isn’t much. In the light of eternity, this life will be just one hand of cards played in a long evening.


Anonymous said...

I like the post. Doesn't the Bible say something about "life is a vapor?"

Unknown said...

Genealogy is interesting no doubt, but it is the stories passed on that help us understand ourselves. Before my grandmother died I had her and my grandfather talk into a tape of their story (they got through the Depression and halfway through WWII). Beyond that I know only of the family occupations...

I tried to dig through the family history do find out which side the E. Tennessee tobacco farmers fought on in the Civil War, but alas I hit so many dead ends I wasn't getting far... except to learn they were third cousins to one Bobby Lee.

Still outside of just being interesting I don't think I could trace values to anyone in particular since it is all an aggregate anyway.