Franke: The Black Hole of Genealogy

May 24, 2023

by Mark Franke

Allen County, where I live, is known for several things but perhaps the genealogy department at the public library is one of the best-known outside God’s country. I am told it has one of the largest collections of official and family documents in the nation. Serious researchers know its reputation and use its expansive digital and paper resources.

While I have never visited the genealogy department, my wife spent many hours of research while attempting to document her application for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). With the assistance of the library’s helpful staff and that of the local DAR officers, she was successful and now holds membership in that august group.

After being inducted into DAR, she should have taken a victory lap and retired from the field. Instead, she insists on taking daily excursions down the rabbit hole of genealogical study.

Fine. It means she shouldn’t have time to comment on my exhaustive number of character defects and the ever-expanding list of home projects not getting the priority she thinks they deserve. I should be the grateful recipient of increasing moments of peace and quiet for reading, writing and watching baseball. Somehow, and quite unfairly at that, it hasn’t worked out as I hoped.

I naively thought the end of the dastardly impact of her obsession on how I spend my leisure had come. After all, I had listened to regular rehearsals of her descent from a branch of the Scottish Stewart family, including an earl whose title is now held by Prince William. Yes, that Prince William. I even took a perverse pleasure in learning that she has significant German blood in her background, hoping this would limit her snarky comments about my German stubbornness and other exemplary Teutonic personality traits she unjustly considers to be flaws.

But now we have reached a new high for her and a new low for me. She has discovered through some demonic database in hell, I mean on the Internet, that she is a fourth cousin, nine times removed, to John Adams. Yes, that John Adams.

Will it never end?

These shared Adams progenitors lived and died in England. It was this original John and Agnes Adams’ son Henry who emigrated while their daughter Lucy stayed behind in the mother country, no doubt chomping at the bit to be on the front lines of the English Civil War. Alas, she died too soon so it may have been her daughter who witnessed the beheading of Charles I. Or so I like to fantasize given the insurrectionist nature of my wife’s family.

Fortunately I was able to restrain myself from suggesting certain personality traits she and John share, such as irascibility and a bedrock belief in always being right. Then there is a pronounced lack of a sense of humor.  I could continue but perhaps this is an expeditious time to desist. She does edit these columns before they are submitted to the Indiana Policy Review.

I have a recurring nightmare that her next project will be to link herself to all my historical heroes. I won’t recite the short list here to avoid fine-tuning her research targets. But, if she ever finds a link to Charlemagne (or Karl der Grosse to us Germans), our marriage of 50 plus years may be in jeopardy. There is only so much an historical romantic like me can take.

She keeps prodding me to research my background. I don’t need to; I know all my American ancestors due to lovingly maintained family histories. One of the last things I was able to do with my father before he passed was to drive around southeast Allen County and listen to his memories of who lived on what farm and how they were related. I wish I had recorded those hours.

I descend from several large German Lutheran families who landed in Allen County in the 1840’s or thereabouts. They were farmers and the ground here was too good to pass up. I have so many third cousins that I don’t even know most of them. One of the few remaining joys in my geezer life is to learn that a longtime friend is really a distant cousin. I am quite content with this mode of existence and don’t need to discover if one-half of one percent of my heritage is Hurrian or Gepid, although I am sure they were all good people back when they still existed. They just aren’t “my” people in any useful sense.

At least I know what fourth cousin, nine times removed, means. Simply put, John Adams’ great-great-great-great grandparents are my wife’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents.

At least I think that’s how it works. They can sort it out at the next Adams family reunion. No, not that Addams family, although sometimes I do wonder . . .

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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