I keep watching the not-so-inspiring episodes of Who Do You Think You Are as I grow my family tree on Ancestry.com, and this week I was treated to Gwyneth Paltrow calling a great-grandmother a hoarder. It is all the rage, after all, to talk about hoarding. Like many hoarders, this relative suffered a double loss of mom and brother in a short period of time and her college education started to fall apart. Paltrow’s grandfather apparently often said that while growing up his house was not a home and that he and his siblings were sent home from school for being dirty, and so on. His mom just didn’t take good care of him.
Paltrow, like many celebrities featured on this show, had a curiosity to understand the genealogy of mental illness, instability, or other past traumas that the family doesn’t like to talk about. She commented that it’s so hard to know what’s true, even when your family members tell you with some level of certainty about the past.
D.’s mom sent me a class project on family history that D. completed in the 1970s with some nifty details written out by his teenage hand. As I entered these “facts” into Ancestry.com, though, I picked up misspelled names and mistaken roots. A few of my queries came to the same dead-ends as his own family search some thirty years ago. These details, even the recorded ones in the archives, are never fully trustworthy. Names get changed, misspelled, ages mistaken, locations shifted, and names of locations change throughout time as well. It’s a little blurrier the further back we go, and while we can trace the family lineage back through the generations, I somehow do not feel any more certain that this is really who we are or where we come from.