Family tree futility

Is there anything as pointless as compiling a family tree? We've all been waylaid by women gushing about their family research, about finding that an ancestor was a cabin boy on the Titanic or some such silliness, and like me you may have wished that they'd stuck with knitting to keep themselves occupied.

You've seen the TV show, Who do you think you are?, and the tears, you've heard people say they're compiling "their story", how they feel complete now that they've discovered where they came from, and you've wondered whethered you've missed out on something. You have - it's called the silly gene.

These people are desperately seeking royalty, and if that fails anyone recorded in history for any reason will do. Some will even tell you that they feel sometimes that they are a particular person (usually a notable one), and you might like to ask them if they've found themselves speaking 9olde English or another forgotten tongue.

The fact that they may share no genes with the ancestor is not a problem, and nor is the fact that their lineage, their pedigree, is almost certainly rendered false by an empty claim to fatherhood somewhere. One in 10 children, researchers say, has been fathered by someone other than the man who believes he is the father, and while I don't believe that I do believe the rate is high enough to render every family tree mortally flawed.

And what, anyway, does your ancestry have to do with who you are? And you with them? There can be nothing to be proud of in having a great great great great grandfather who was a king or a peasant.

Many who delve into genealogy are, it seems to me, seeking to established that they are pedigreed, and if the notion of being a pure-bred person seems absurd consider the great pride taken by those who call themselves First Fleeters, who claim to be descendants of someone who arrived in Sydney Cove with the First Fleet on 26 January 1788.

Many have no reason to be proud of their ancestor’s arrival as a criminal and convict, and many were not expelled from Britain for merely stealing an apple, but it is really the pedigree that fuels the vanity.

They’ll tell you with pride that they are 10th generation Australian, and some do seem to believe that this gives their opinions greater weight, when I cannot see that they have anything more to be proud of than an Australian who arrived five years ago, or, for that matter, a stateless refugee.

Is family history something to be proud of? Hasn't modern man moved on from ancestor worship?