Genealogy is a mania

an obsessive struggle
to penetrate the past
and snatch meaning
from an infinity of names.
At some point the search becomes futile
– there is nothing left to find,
no meaning to be dredged
out of old receipts, newspaper articles, letters,
accounts of events that seemed so important
fifty or seventy years ago.
All that remains is the insane urge to keep looking,
insane because the searcher has no idea what he seeks.
What will it be?
A photograph?
A will?
A fragment of a letter?
The only way to find out is to look at everything,
because it is often when the searcher
has gone far beyond the border of futility
that he finds the object he never knew he was looking for.

― Henry Wiencek in The Hairstons:
An American Family in Black and White

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