I keep thinking of things I forgot to ask my mother before she died. One of them was about her grandparents. I have wonderful pictures of them and have posted some here but I never thought to ask her what she thought of them -- what was her grandfather like, whom I never met? Was her grandmother always as eccentric as she was when I knew her towards the end of her life?
People are only alive to us if we knew them; otherwise, they are just names on a family tree. I've never been into genealogy much because I want to know the real stories behind the people, not just their names and birth dates, and you can't get the real story if you never knew them or know anyone who did. It's all lost then (unless they had biographers or kept diaries).
I had to think about this a few years ago when I was with my aunt in Dublin. She was researching the family in the main library there. I sat listlessly with her, then she said to me, "You don't really care about this, do you?" And that made me wonder if I did or not.
I was reading a wonderful section of John Steinbeck's book Travels with Charley: In Search of America last night that addresses this issue:
"We are, as a nation, as hungry for history as was England when Geoffrey of Monmouth concocted his History of British Kings, many of whom he manufactured to meet a growing demand. And as in states and communities, so in individual Americans this hunger for decent association with the past. Genealogists are worked to death winnowing the debris of ancestry for grains of greatness. Not long ago it was proved that Dwight D. Eisenhower was descended from the royal line of Britain, a proof if one were needed that everyone is descended from everyone."