Several years ago, I began researching my family history. I began the process for the same reason many of us do: Curiosity. I was curious about genealogy because I wanted to prepare a proper history to pass down to my own children. The more I began researching and the bigger my family tree grew, the more excited I became about what I was learning, and how proud I would be to one day pass down my findings to my children.
Except I’m not going to have any child to receive this information.
A few months ago my husband and I came to the realization that parenthood isn’t going to happen for us. Financial woes and health issues have choked out a chance to continue the family tree, to bear new fruit.
Over the years, as I did my genealogical research, I always tried to expand the tree’s limbs and branches as far back as possible. No matter how distant the relative, I always believed that every branch mattered, and therefore every fruit from them also mattered. How disappointed I was when no children were had by an ancestor, and that his or her branch did not continue.
I’m going to be one of those dead-end branches. In decades to come, will the branch of my husband and me be overlooked? Will we be non-important because we didn’t produce any fruit?
Yes, I grieve for not being able to buy baby clothes, for not being able to comfort a crying child, and the other gazillion reasons. But what I seem to mourn the most is not being able to be a growing part of my family tree. I grieve for being a branch that doesn’t extend. I grieve that the stories I’ve collected and the heritage of which I’m fiercely proud will not be shared with my own children. I’m still struggling with this realization.
A few weeks ago as I pondered this realization, I thought of my great-aunt Annie who died single and childless. Almost 50 years after her death, she’s still remembered fondly by all in my family, remembered for her courage, altruism, and strength. And among all of her 13 siblings, she is probably the most memorable. Was it being single and childless that helped mold her into this individual and leave such an indelible legacy on our family? I don’t know.
Some of history’s most influential women never had children. Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Julia Child are just a few. Their branches of the family tree did not bear fruit. Yet they still managed to influence countless others—including those who are of no relation. They are important limbs in a larger tree, and their fruits are in forms other than offspring. Their fruits are their writings, their culinary artistry, their caring for the sick, and their advocacy of women’s rights.
Does this realization erase all the sadness I have? No. But perhaps it’s worth reminding myself that not all-important branches must bear fruit.
Amelia Ricardo lives with her husband in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As she tries to accept a life without baby, she keeps herself busy with freelance writing, blogging, and many other projects. She blogs about her unabashed Olympic obsession at OlympicFanatic.com.
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I cannot tell you the names of my great grandparents. My brother can. He is our family historian, and I have helped out, traveling to our country of origin and looking through centuries’ old baptismal records. Recently, one of my aunts and not long thereafter, her husband, passed away. To give comfort to the family my brother pointed out the many generations (they had eight great grandchildren) that will live on in their memory. Of course for me, I also being a stump on the family tree, his words only emphasized my “stumpiness”… Then I thought about the logic of the whole thing. As I said, I do not know the names of my great grandparents (save one). I have no memories of them, nor anyone before them. I cannot tell you about their personalities, their lives, their dreams, their desires, nothing. Yes, I am here because of them, so biologically they “live” in me. But really? They passed on a loooong time ago, and since I am a believer, I believe that their spirits are elsewhere, in a place where these things are of very little consequence. My beloved aunt who passed away in 2009, also had no children. She is in my heart, in my thoughts and even in my dreams. I miss her, and I love her. I remember her. Unless someone is famous, as a political figure, author, scientist, or celebrity of some sort, they are only really, and truly remembered by those they loved and who loved them back… unless of course, they were notorious for other reasons. 🙂
Great points Iris. I love looking into the past and have several old family photos hanging in my office. I selected the ones that I like the best – I have no connection to them except for knowing their name. I have no idea how many, if any, children they had. I might like their clothing, expression. One I just like because the husband and wife look like they are shaking hands to seal a deal.
I’m sure my nieces and nephews will remember me. Maybe their children will know and remember me as well. But their childrens, children likely will not remember either me or my even brother (who would be their great-great grandfather). Unless of course they are interested in geneology, then maybe they will take note.
I agree, the thought that our branches end is sad. However no one but us will really care.
Louisa May Alcott was my favorite author as a teenager – I read Little Women many, many times. So she is part of my family tree in a way, or maybe my heart tree? What do you call that collection of thoughts and ideas that makes up your own private heritage? – she’s part of that. We all have our contributions to give…
It made me think of that TV programme “Who do you think you are?” Here in NZ we get both the US and the UK versions. And so often, the person they trace back to and follow up is a sibling of the direct relative, without kids, but with a really interesting life story. So often they skip over several generations, where the role of the parents has simply been as breeders, to find the story they want to tell.
First of all, SORRY to hear about your empty arms. Every now and then I’m also reminded of our “truncated family tree” and I get a tad melancholic. I struggled with this a lot in the beginning, but these days I’ve thought of my blogs as my “heritage” for the whole world to see, so I’m appeased by that thought as well. 🙂
I’ve written before about my own love of genealogy… I find it interesting/fascinating that so many family historians don’t have any children of their own. I suppose some people might say that we have more free time to pursue the research, and I guess that may be true — but I also think that, deep down, it might be our way of contributing to the family history and knowledge of our past — adding more branches to the tree, even if the branches don’t come directly from us. : )