Elizabeth Geris | Tree of woe

Understandably, my closest circle of loved ones (i.e., my mom, my dad, and the hubs) have stopped feigning polite interest in hearing the latest and most likely error-filled findings of my amateur genealogic research.

The whole painful process started about two years ago when I forked over enough bones to a genetic genealogy company to assist my digging into the mystery that is the Geris ancestry. And the journey would probably be a lot less frustrating if I could consistently and successfully fight the urge to seek the aid of the biggest, most-unjustifiably hyped, most malarkey-filled resource of them all: The World Wide Web. But hey, when you have a hobby as vague, time-consuming and self-indulgent as your own genealogy, you need the additional help of such a vast and easily accessible resource, right?

Well, that depends. If you get a kick out of, say, typing as broad a search request as “Geris Surname” and ending up with 54 results of “Geri’s Surf Page,” even when you specify no phrases with the word “Geri’s” in the advanced search option, then saddle up to your local monitor with a root beer, cowgirl, because you’re in for a real knee-slapper. But if you want any results that smack of the relevant variety for your silly queries, let me save you hours of anguish by disclosing the truth here – the Internet is filled with a lot of bull-dink. You will be let down, and you will be disappointed. (Excluding this site, of course.)

As tempting as it may be, please do not suggest I go old-school and hit Books-A-Million to purchase some good ancestry reference books: Books cost money. They are for the high-rollers, the sophisticated pontificators, the disposable-income Swaggerifics. “OK,” you say, “then hit the library, Cheap-o.” Nah, already did that – the local genealogy section turns up a big, fat zilch when it comes to my last name.

So, like the lactose-intolerant giving the church ice cream social another whirl, I ready my fingertips for more keyboard time, and type in search requests like … well, lately it’s been “Swiss” this-and-that, since FamilyTree DNA has recently deduced that the Gerises, despite the baffling surname, are of overwhelming Swiss descent. (Note to self: Stop trippin’ on the name and just embrace the indisputable science.) But, somehow I ended up wandering over to a page that promised to answer a question posed by some other curious, limited-resourced, shallow-pocket out there who wanted to get an idea of what the German personality was like.

Oh, the poor, culturally insensitive jerk – little did she know her innocent question would invoke an anonymous cyber wrist-slap, chastising her for the “dangerous” practice of stereotyping. Now more intrigued to find other potentially harsh answers to well-meaning questions, I typed in “Turkish surnames,” since my last name has been found in Turkey as-is. Let’s just say I was glad to get to the end of one particularly rant-filled thread of foaming hate for every corner of the world, and even more disappointed to find myself back to square one, again pinching the dog-eared pieces of my holey genealogy puzzle. But hey, I can’t say I didn’t learn something new. For instance, did you know: Not only is the web filled with misleading, downright wrong information gleefully disseminated on to one’s neighbor for what I can only imagine are the cheapest of thrills, but you can also find hypervigilant political correctness lying paradoxically next to beet-faced murderous rage for the less understood pockets of people we are suddenly linked to with the click of a mouse. Hmmm…

So good to see that scary sociological dichotomies are not merely an anomaly of the Western world, but rather a planet-wide unstoppable scourge intent to not only misrepresent and obliterate a patience for cultural differences, but also extinguish any productive discussion that would dethrone the same stereotypes we all claim to detest – of ourselves and our “weird” neighbors. Oh, well. Human development and progress are so 1990s, anyway.

 

– Column by Elizabeth Geris


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