Americans sometimes think that only mutt cultures lack a sense of family history. If anything, staying in one place for generations means there’s even less incentive to record history—sure, isn’t all around you? Rural modesty is uneasy with the self-mythologizing aspects of recording family history. I’m from Irish peasant stock, and I know vague details about great-grandparents only by pestering my parents for their memories.

I can count back four generations to the great-grandmother who went from Co. Roscommon to Butte, Montana at the turn of the century, didn’t like it, and went home. If you’re going to be stuck in the back-arse of nowhere, you might as well be among family and friends, I suppose. For the rest of her life she corresponded with ‘the Norwegian lady’ she met in Butte.

I don’t know how my family survived the famine. Their part of Roscommon was especially bad, thanks to a cruel local landlord. I don’t know what they did in the Irish War of Independence or in the Civil War that followed. Probably nothing, or we would’ve heard. At the other extreme of record-keeping, Tricia’s family is from aristocratic Korean stock. Besides their carefully American first names, she and her sister have generation middle names, along with each child in their 32nd generation of the Han family. 32 generations! Who decided to start counting? Who gets to pick the generation name—the first parents in a generation? Or is it laid out in advance like astrological signs?

I intend to adopt this excellent custom if I ever have children. The second generation of the matrilineal Hanley dynasty will be denoted with the middle name ‘Sammy-Jo’.

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