As I’ve grown older, and especially since my brother’s death, I’ve become intensely interested in genealogy. Finding relatives from the past can be very satisfying: They make no demands other than to be discovered, and you can’t lose them because they’re already gone.
My mother’s side came over from Italy in 1920 to escape grinding poverty; my father’s was fleeing religious persecution in 17th-century France. Among these brave, flawed forebears are farmers and butchers, soldiers and slaveholders, a blacksmith, a shoe repairman, an operating-room nurse and the 63rd mayor of New York City. I’m glad there’s always someone in the family having a baby, moving the whole mess forward. And I’m glad it isn’t me.
Nanette Varian is a features editor at More. She dotes happily on her two cats.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of More. This is an expanded version of the original article.