I’ve been watching this great series on the TLC channel called “Who Do You Think You Are?” in which celebrities trace their family trees. In one episode, supermodel Cindy Crawford discovers she’s a direct descendent of Charlemagne. No one in her family knew this.
The question is, how on earth is that possible? I mean, if there were one tidbit of information you’d think would get passed down from generation to generation, wouldn’t it be that? As in, “Oh, by the way, your great great great great great great (however many) grandfather was the man who they call “the Father of Europe”. Just thought you might like to know that.”
But really, it doesn’t take much to break this chain of information. Someone along the line might have been orphaned, and therefore never knew the family history. Or someone could have had dementia, or didn’t really care about the family, or was estranged, or was told the history and assumed it was outlandish and therefore dismissed it. Any number of things could have happened.
Being a second generation American, I know how muddied the information stream can become. I don’t even speak the same language that my grandparents spoke. And for the vast majority of my life, I assumed that I was of German descent because of my German last name, when in fact my father’s family is French. The Alsace Loraine region of France has bounced back and forth so many times in history that a lot of French families have German appellations.
But it makes you wonder what other valuable information has been lost to us. I mean, we’re not even sure about the exact ingredients used in the mummification process. We can only speculate about the purpose of Stonehenge. And whenever I think about the wisdom lost when the library in Alexandria burned, I feel like weeping. What was lost during the sack of Rome (any one of them)? Are we sure nothing important is rotting away in Aunt Mabel’s basement or Uncle Arturo’s attic? What knowledge has been suppressed for political reasons by the various governments that have come and gone throughout the world?
Can we ever really know what is true about ourselves and the world around us?
How the Great Library of Alexandria may have looked.
[Image credit: discovery-enterprise.com]