It is possible, I think, to approach genealogy with a spiritual mindset, as we consider the mysterious providence of all these people moving through time, living and dying, all of them contributing indispensably to our own existence. Between the excesses of ancestor worship and the tragedy of utter disinterest for those who came before, we should all be able to find that right place to consider our unique family tree.

All of us come from the same primordial couple; we are all cousins! How some of our forebears ended up here or there, marrying this person rather than someone else, survived long enough to produce offspring, resulting in each of us being here may seem like observing the random motion of molecules. The spirit looks at all this and see providence, the guiding hand of God, and rich meaning. For others, it all seems like “a tale told by an idiot, full of fury, signifying nothing.” And our family trees are (for most of us), a mixture of servants (even slaves) and kings. We may not all be able to “prove it,” but we don’t need documents to know that this is true and humbling.

As we look on so many names, almost all of them of dead people, we are challenged on reflected on what is a good and meaningful life.