The Call of Blood

We Americans pride ourselves on being a nation of rootless individuals, cut off from the history that chained Old Europe to a cycle of wars and revolutions and bound to one another not by ties of blood and soil but only by the bloodless abstraction of self-evident truths.  Rooted in no one place, our corporate aristocrats move as frequently as Roman military officers or Methodist preachers, and, while we may take pride in our own wealth and accomplishments, we are often inclined to minimize the legacy we have received from our ancestors.  I remember a New Yorker cartoon I saw as a child.  Two men are sitting at their club and looking at a third.  “There’s young Smedley, a self-made man.  Started with only two million and look where he is today.”  Those were the days when two million bucks were two million bucks.

And yet many of these same Americans do make an effort to stay in touch with their relatives and with the places associated with their family past.  My wife’s mother, the widow of a transient military officer, still attends reunions of his fighter wing stationed in England during World War II and makes frequent sentimental journeys to the home of her childhood, the places where she bore and reared her children, and the European lands from which her ancestors emigrated.  Her sister has been working for years on a massive genealogy, and this devotion to...

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