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The Genealogical Craze
by [?]

The promoters of this enterprise seem nevertheless to have been fairly successful, for they gave a fête recently and crowned a queen. To be acclaimed their sovereign by a group of people all of royal birth is indeed an honor. Rumors of this ceremony have come to us outsiders. It is said that they employed only lineal descendants of Vatel to prepare their banquet, and I am assured that an offspring of Gambrinus acted as butler.

But it is wrong to joke on this subject. The state of affairs is becoming too serious. When sane human beings form a “Baronial Order of Runnymede,” and announce in their prospectus that only descendants through the male line from one (or more) of the forty noblemen who forced King John to sign the Magna Charta are what our Washington Mrs. Malaprop would call “legible,” the action attests a diseased condition of the community. Any one taking the trouble to remember that eight of the original barons died childless, and that the Wars of the Roses swept away nine tenths of what families the others may have had, that only one man in England (Lord de Ros) can at the present day prove male descent further back than the eleventh century, must appreciate the absurdity of our compatriots’ pretensions. Burke’s Peerage is acknowledged to be the most “faked” volume in the English language, but the descents it attributes are like mathematical demonstrations compared to the “trees” that members of these new American orders climb.

When my class was graduated from Mr. McMullen’s school, we little boys had the brilliant idea of uniting in a society, but were greatly put about for an effective name, hitting finally upon that of Ancient Seniors’ Society. For a group of infants, this must be acknowledged to have been a luminous inspiration. We had no valid reason for forming that society, not being particularly fond of each other. Living in several cities, we rarely met after leaving school and had little to say to each other when we did. But it sounded so fine to be an “Ancient Senior,” and we hoped in our next school to impress new companions with that title and make them feel proper respect for us in consequence. Pride, however, sustained a fall when it was pointed out that the initials formed the ominous word “Ass.”

I have a shrewd suspicion that the motives which prompted our youthful actions are not very different from those now inciting children of a larger growth to band together, blackball their friends, crown queens, and perform other senseless mummeries, such as having the weathercock of a departed meeting-house brought in during a banquet, and dressing restaurant waiters in knickerbockers for “one night only.”

This malarial condition of our social atmosphere accounts for the quantity of genealogical quacks that have taken to sending typewritten letters, stating that the interest they take in your private affairs compels them to offer proof of your descent from any crowned head to whom you may have taken a fancy. One correspondent assured me only this month that he had papers in his possession showing beyond a doubt that I might claim a certain King McDougal of Scotland for an ancestor. I have misgivings, however, as to the quality of the royal blood in my veins, for the same correspondent was equally confident six months ago that my people came in direct line from Charlemagne. As I have no desire to “corner” the market in kings, these letters have remained unanswered.

Considering the mania to trace descent from illustrious men, it astonishes me that a Mystic Band, consisting of lineal descendants from the Seven Sages of Greece, has not before now burst upon an astonished world. It has been suggested that if some one wanted to organize a truly restricted circle, “The Grandchildren of our Tripoli War” would be an excellent title. So few Americans took part in that conflict-and still fewer know anything about it-that the satisfaction of joining the society would be immense to exclusively-minded people.

There is only one explanation that seems in any way to account for this vast tomfoolery. A little sentence, printed at the bottom of a prospectus recently sent to me, lets the ambitious cat out of the genealogical bag. It states that “social position is assured to people joining our order.” Thanks to the idiotic habit some newspapers have inaugurated of advertising, gratis, a number of self-elected society “leaders,” many feeble-minded people, with more ambition than cash, and a larger supply of family papers than brains, have been bitten with a social madness, and enter these traps, thinking they are the road to position and honors. The number of fools is larger than one would have believed possible, if the success of so many “orders,” “circles,” “commanderies,” and “regencies” were not there to testify to the unending folly of the would-be “smart.”

This last decade of the century has brought to light many strange fads and senseless manias. This “descent” craze, however, surpasses them all in inanity. The keepers of insane asylums will tell you that one of the hopeless forms of madness is la folie des grandeurs. A breath of this delirium seems to be blowing over our country. Crowns and sceptres haunt the dreams of simple republican men and women, troubling their slumbers and leading them a will-o’-the-wisp dance back across the centuries.