The Family Tree Conundrum

Like many who barely knew their grandmothers – add grandfathers if you like  – I didn’t knowheathen-tree-sigrid-macrae-v3crop mine either. Those on one side were dead long before I was even thought of, the others I was either too young to recall, or were themselves already in the grip of forgetting. But unlike those with no idea who those grandparents really were, or from what town or village in parts unknown they came, I may have too much information: countless photos, memoirs, family trees, recollections, letters. It may not be completely personal baggage but it is baggage nonetheless: a backpack laden with built-in expectations that sometimes feels like a heavy burden and raises a nagging question: Who am I? Does all this make me somehow more of a person than my ignorant counterpart, or does it just tether me to the family tree?

Maybe in this instance, ignorance really is bliss, offering endless freedom for self-invention and the makings of a quintessential American entity: the self-made man. Liberated from ties and expectations, free to ride into the sunset whenever it suits him, he is the unencumbered Marlboro Man of American myth, with an unbounded frontier somewhere offstage, where he can push ahead, can juggle, falter, fail, or where he can change course or persona, can succeed and maybe fulfill the dream. This notion meshes perfectly with the cowboy of yesteryear, whereas I seem to be hemmed in by old world ideas of maintaining a heritage and keeping the faith –whatever that is nowadays. It’s a conundrum…

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