Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Mistake, You're Nothing Alike

I'm sorry, but if you invite me into your house I'm going to make a bee-line for the old family photos, that's just a fact of life and if you were to come to my house I'd understand perfectly if you were to do the same.  And what's more, if the resemblance between the descendant next to me and the ancestor in the picture is striking, I'll point it out.  I'm always proud whenever someone tells me I have grandma's eyes or my mother's smile so I always just assume the same with others and nine times out of ten I'm right.

Then the conversion segways into genealogy and a good time is had by all.  Unless, that is, you're that one person out of ten.  A few months ago I was having dinner with a friend who was showing me some pictures on her phone of her recent visit with her 90+ year old mother.  The resemblance was striking, so I pointed it out.  Boy was that a mistake.  I don't really know how telling someone they look like their mother is insulting but to that friend it was.  "So you're telling me I look like a ninty-something year old woman?! Gee, thanks a ton!" was the response I got.  Then a few weeks ago I was in a neighbor's home and noticed a beautiful black and white portrait from around the turn of the Century.  It was a great-grandparent and the resemblance between her and the neighbor was eerie it was so similar.  I casually mentioned how closely the neighbor resembled the beautiful lady in the portrait and was met with a cold stare and "so you think I look like a dead person?!" for a response.

I don't understand, if all you see is a "dead person" in the portrait then why are you displaying it (and so prominently at that)?  Is it just meant to be a decoration piece (that was the impression I was left with)?  Because using ancestors to add finish to a room is a new one to me.  And going back to my friend, how vain do you have to be to be insulted by a physical likeness between yourself and your parent?  In her defense, she and her mother didn't have the warmest relationship.  But still, for her to deduce that I thought she looked old (which was the furthest thing from what I meant) by noting her resemblance to her mother was shocking to me. 

My point is this, these are also the people that don't "get it." They hear genealogy and always say things along the lines of "why would you want to learn about a bunch of dead people?" and "what is the point of looking into all that old stuff?"  I recently read a wonderful article over at Tracing the Tribe in which Schelly offers a great response to someone who clearly doesn't "get it" and what is more, goes so far as to claim genealogists are narcissists and ego-maniacal.  Sorry, but I think non-genealogists are WAY more egotistical, self-involved and narcissistic.  How else do you explain people who can't see past their own generation, who use pictures of their ancestors purely for their decorative value and who feel insulted when you note a resemblance between them and an aged parent?

UPDATE: Be sure and check out Chris' wonderful (and hilarious) response to the same article. 


  1. Ahh you just inspired me for a blog, which I may have in draft somewhere anyway. the fact that my mom said it with distaste that I looked like His side of the family;[my fathers side]

    So if you had said i looked like one of them, I am not sure If I would have been overjoyed just because that had happened. glasses, skinny peaked nose she called it. etc.

    And well the other, the asking someone about their heritage I am going to write about. Twice, I have been informed immediately, I don't know I was adopted. Of course I knew adopted who researched the family cause they wanted to know all they could about their family.

  2. Oh, yes, I read Schelly's article, too. Cannot believe that guy doesn't realize what he actually sounds like. And I would be flattered to be told that I resembled one of my ancestors. Well, most of them, anyway.


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