Social niceties

My Rule No. 1 for talking about genealogy at a party is simple: Don’t.

Rule No. 2  is: Unless they ask.

Which brings me to Rule No. 3: And then you’ll probably be sorry.

Here’s my breakdown of the usual conversational suspects:

The Comedian: The person who asks you to define some [allegedly] difficult genealogy term like “first cousin twice removed”, using your good-faith attempt to respond as a launching pad for an [alleged] humor riff. “Ya lost me at great-great-grandfather!  So who’s my third cousin once removed? Hahahahaha!” Genealogy sure is complicated! And aren’t you a nerd!

The Anti-Roots Ranter: The Man (or Woman) of the People who believes genealogy shouldn’t be a hobby and looks down on you for being an elitist roots snob — unconsciously betraying their own rabid snobbery while they’re at it. I vented at charming length upon this topic in this post.

The Well-Meaning Fantasist: Sort of the flip side of the Anti-Roots Ranter. The person who always asks whether you’ve found the family’s direct connection to Queen Maeve, or how you’re coming along with figuring out where the third brother went after they got to America.

The DNA Dynamo: The person who is put out that you still haven’t isolated the gene that is producing all that heart trouble/left-handedness/alcoholism/stamp collecting in the family line. Resist the temptation to ask: “What’s the hurry — are you taking out a patent?”

Of course, there are people out there who ask about genealogy and are genuinely interested in hearing your answer. Try not to be too wary and suspicious when you talk to them. I know it’s hard, though. Life would be easier if we had secret handshakes for this sort of thing.


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