It seems that in these unnecessarily interesting and unnerving times, many of us have become fascinated with our ancestry. We investigate it not only in the old fashioned way--search of records--but are now able to do so by analysis of our DNA. DNA presumably provides a far less detailed picture of our lineage than would a careful record search, but this hasn't prevented the marketing and sale of DNA kits. People, or some people, long to know what groups of people have combined to produce them if not their individual ancestors themselves.
Why have many of us become inclined to investigate our ancestry? The ancient Romans, or at least the patricians among them, valued their ancestors considerably. Portrait masks of ancestors were made and displayed by them. Actors would don those masks and famous ancestors would thereby make an appearance at important occasions like a triumph or games given in honor of a particular member of a great family. None of these masks have survived, but we know of them from sculptures like the one appearing above. The devotion of the Chinese to their ancestors is well known. Ancestors were also important, and may still be, to some of noble descent, to kings and queens that remain.
This is a concern which hasn't been of much concern to most of us, however; not at least to the extent that it seems to be now. But we have resources available to us now our ancestors didn't have. Has this made a difference in our desire to investigate from whence we came?
Perhaps it has, but there may also be other factors at work. We live rootless lives in a rootless time, I think, and seek roots as a result.
I say "rootless times" because it strikes me that what has rooted us in the past here in our Glorious Republic and perhaps the West in general no longer does so. Traditional religion is uninspiring to many. Liberal democratic values provide little support or comfort. How could they, now, when it seems our democratic system, which was never all that democratic to begin with, is apparently failing? We have gone from electing such as Washington, Adams and Jefferson to electing an ignorant and often incoherent buffoon, and have matched him with a venal, oafish crew of legislators lacking the intelligence needed to legislate and utterly without principles.
"Rootless lives" seems apt as we seem to lack the steadiness required to think intelligently ourselves. Instead, we grasp at anything or anyone providing a simple answer to questions we face which in turn demands only the most thoughtless response to any problem. In a sense, ignorance of anything new or different is indeed bliss, though, perversely, it is what we are quick to accept unthinkingly which demands new and different answers.
There's a certain comfort in being able to say my ancestors were so and so or such and such. An association is created which we can use to provide ourselves with an identity, a character, ancestral customs, ancestral values, which already existed and perhaps have existed a very long time. We have them ready-made, as it were; there's no need to manufacture them ourselves.
And it may be that we look to the past as it's unusually difficult, or maybe even disturbing, to look to the future. There are times when many will have few expectations, and rightly so. This, it seems, is one of those times for most of us. There may be a "happy few" but their happiness becomes more and more extraordinary.
The past can be an escape, as many historians and fans of history have found.
Perhaps we seek hope in our pasts as we can have little hope in our futures. That's a troubling consideration, but it's likely that as it is such, few will take note of it.