Trees

The images of my summer were not of white sanded coast lines or of foaming rivers in extreme rafting. With nerdish pride, the images of my summer were genealogical trees.

In Toptaki Palace, Istanbul
In Toptaki Palace, Istanbul
In El Escorial, Madrid
In El Escorial, Madrid

In our age, genealogy has become decreasingly serious (my way of avoiding more severe terms). It is a spectacle and a recreational activity. The BBC show Who do you think you are? has experts go on the road with celebrities to discover their great grandparents. There are mega websites, such as Genealogy.com, that make birth, death and marriage records available on a click. Software lets all and any family write down and visualize DNA lines, in the confusion of multiplying last names. Finally, record offices in all countries have guides on how to construct “your” family tree.

Yet the “tree” in “family tree” had never been vivid to me, until this summer, until I saw the “tree” change in group portraits of power. The contemporary “tree” resembles a corporate organization chart, of levels advancing in overcrowdedness with thin lines of connection. The seventeenth century “tree” is leafy. The names or faces are not hanging fruit on a line, but flowers in a lush and organic setting.

To me it seems the “tree” back then asked the question “who is in?”. Today’s “trees” seem to ask “where do I fit?”

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