The Third Leader: Ancestor worship

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The Independent Online

Until reasonably recently, excitement in genealogical circles was mostly confined to matters of escutcheons, pendent drops, annulets and double quatrefoils, and expressed at most by an almost imperceptibly increased tempo in page turning by gimlet-eyed people hunched over cumbersome tomes and scrolls.

Not any more. Now there's a buzz, its words are "census" and "online", genealogy has been rebranded as "family records", and, in the words of Tony Robinson, always to be relied on: "Whoever would have thought that archives could be sexy?" Yes, indeed, the 1841 census is now out there in cyberspace and is available on subscription through public-private partnership. Ancestors, expect no peace.

It's possible to be charmed by the use of these state-of-the-art dispositions for such retrospection; and possible, too, to draw the customary conclusions about backward escape, or the need for roots in shifting times. What's also interesting is that undistinguished antecedents are now fashionable, better to reflect present status and thrilling ascent.

Call me romantic, but I find this more appealing than the search for tenuous lineage to some pinched cadet branch. A fine thing, too, to recognise the harder lives that have made our softer ones possible. Time, I should have said, to revive All Soul's Day, 2 November, and thereon raise a glass or light a candle.

One word of warning, though: it might just be me, but I do find that hearing in detail about the admirable but unremarkable lives of other people's dead relations can have its arid moments. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes find myself yearning for a good old holiday video. Just mentioning it.