Because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to look up my ancestors on the new Family Search and see if I had any Irish in me. Apparently, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was Irish. I mean, it appears to be reasonably well-documented that he was born there. So there it is, proof that I am, what, one one-hundred-twenty-eighth Irish? I still don’t feel very connected to Ireland. But at least now I know.
Here’s a thing about me that isn’t very Mormon: I’m really not interested in genealogy. Just so we’re clear, I am NOT saying that I feel guilty for not doing my genealogy, so you don’t need to tell me that there are seasons in life and when my children are a little older, I will have more time to devote to researching my ancestors. Theoretically, I have plenty of time now to devote to researching my ancestors, if I were inclined toward such an activity, but my point is that I’m not, because I’m just not interested. That’s what I mean by “not interested.” It isn’t that I don’t care about people who lived a long time ago; I just don’t specifically care about people who lived a long time ago who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed people who begat or birthed me. One random person who lived a long time ago is as interesting to me as the next random person who lived a long time ago. When somebody posts something on a blog about one of their ancestors, I find it just as interesting as if it were one of my own ancestors–which is to say that it is interesting for whatever it is and not for how it is related to me.
Actually, the other day on this blog, Kevin Barney posted The Memoir of Elizabeth Lee. That was interesting. As it happens, there are Lees in my family tree–and apparently they were Irish at one point–but I don’t think this Elizabeth Lee is related to me. Well, I don’t know. She might be. Kevin mentioned that this Lee family was related to Harold B. Lee in some way, and as I recall one of my own Lee family is supposedly related to Harold B. Lee in some way, so maybe by extension our Lee families are related to each other, but I wouldn’t know and I don’t care because in case you haven’t gotten the flavor of this post yet, I’m not interested in that sort of thing. I suppose if I were a direct descendant of Harold B. Lee, that would mean something to me, because then he’d be my grandpa. I would sure know a lot more about him then, wouldn’t I? And I’d probably want to know more, since he would have died before I was really old enough to have any memory of him.
I am interested in my mother’s personal history because I knew my mother. Similarly, I am interested in my mother’s mother’s personal history because I knew my mother’s mother. I didn’t know my mother’s father, but my mother knew her father and spoke of him often, so I’m reasonably interested in him. I’m even a little bit interested in my great-grandmother on my father’s side because I knew her a little before she died, but beyond that, the people of the past who are deceased are about all the same to me. Because I’m also interested in the personal history of some people I know who aren’t related to me. So I see no reason to be more interested in deceased persons who are related to me than I am in deceased persons who are not related to me if I don’t/didn’t know any of them.
Another thing that is even less Mormon about me is that I don’t really understand why we need to do ordinance work for the dead. I mean, I’m not against it. I’m not trying to contrive some argument for not doing it because I feel guilty about not doing it. It’s just one of those things about my religion that makes less sense to me the more I think about it. Don’t worry or anything–I’m still going to go to the temple and do it because I’m working on the assumption that I must be doing it for some reason; I just can’t imagine what that reason is. I understand that we all are supposed to need these ordinances, but I don’t even understand why I need them, let alone someone who lived a thousand years ago needs them. The fact that I don’t understand is not an argument against needing the ordinances; I’m just saying that I don’t get it, and that’s probably why the Spirit of Elijah has never bitten me. (Or whatever the Spirit of Elijah does to people who become obsessed with their ancestors. I guess one would only be bitten by the bug of Elijah, but I’ve never heard of that, and the appropriate word seems to be escaping me this morning.)
I have been told that as I learn more about my ancestors, I will feel closer to them. Well, I guess so. I felt to closer to Abraham Lincoln after I read a book about him. But it didn’t make me feel like doing his temple work. (Or, rather, encouraging my husband to do his temple work…I guess.) This bug of Elijah, it just doesn’t seem to affect me one way or the other.
It makes me wonder, do I care how my great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren remember me, or if they remember me? I guess I don’t. To be fair, part of that is because I’m a child of the Cold War and Saturday’s Warrior, and I never expected to live this long without an apocalypse or Second Coming, so I’m still wrapping my head around the idea of having descendants in the first place. I imagine I’m a long way away from caring about their level of interest in me. I think I would be flattered if anyone was interested in me 300 years from now. But I won’t be surprised if no one is–nor could I blame them, all things considered.
I suppose I do feel a responsibility to tell my kids stories about my mother and my grandparents, whom they never got to meet. But it’s also kind of natural for me to do this because these people were important to me personally, so it’s part of my life, and so I tell my kids about them. However, just yesterday I found myself telling my daughter all about Jim Varney, who is also now deceased, whose “Hey Vern!” commercials she has never had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand, and who is also not, as far as I know, related to me. So I don’t know what that means. But that’s the status of me and the Spirit of Elijah on this St. Patrick’s Day, 2011. Mark it, for posterity.