Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ode to My Family’s History: Through the Lens of Gilbert and Sullivan

Jasia of Creative Gene has issued one of the most intriguing and difficult challenges of any Carnival of Genealogy for the 89th COG: The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: Ode to My Family's History! This time around we'll be composing a poem that tells our family's history. It can be long or short, rhyme or not rhyme, funny or serious, illustrated or not... you choose, but make it appropriate as an introduction for a book or video on your family history.

My choice of form for my “ode” to my family’s history was dictated by two incontestable truths:

1. I cannot write poetry. It always turns into drivel and doggerel. However, the irresistible songs of Gilbert and Sullivan are an inspiring model, and thinking of the words as lyrics rather than poetry makes the words flow much more easily.

2. I do want to leave our family history to my children, but so far they have resisted becoming the least bit interested in it, so how can I pique their interest? Since I want to put the history in video form, what kind of videos would be sure to capture their interest (and my husband’s interest as well)? What kind of videos have we all watched and enjoyed together since the children were little and do we still enjoy watching together? Gilbert and Sullivan, of course. And there is that tiny little fact that a huge role in the plot lines of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas is played by genealogy and family lines.

Imagine that what follows is a short “act” or introductory scene for a very minor Gilbert and Sullivan operetta entitled “The (Not So) Humble Researcher.” The casts consists of the Humble Researcher (HR), Chorus of Ancestors (COA), and the Faithful Guide (FG).

I apologize to the following:

- To W.S. and Sir Arthur, for mauling their music and mangling their lyrics.

- To Jasia, for stretching the concept of this Carnival of Genealogy ‘til it screamed.

- To all my ancestors for casting aspersions on them.

- To you, my readers, for foisting this on you.

On with the show!

1. I Am the Queen of Ancestry (to the tune of “I Am the Monarch of the Sea”)

(By HR, backed up by COA)

I am the queen of An-ces-try
The explorer of the fam’ly tree
Who looks up wills and schedules and grants.

And we are her uncles and her cousins and her aunts!
And we are her uncles and her cousins and her aunts!

Whenever I find a line
I must make sure it’s mine
So I cite my sources and do the happy dance!

And we are her uncles and her cousins and her aunts!
And we are her uncles and her cousins and her aunts!

When an ancestor wants to hide,
I will not be denied
I examine all the angles, leaving nothing to chance!

And we are her uncles and her cousins and her aunts!
And we are her uncles and her cousins – she finds us by the dozens – all the wives, in-laws, and husbands – and her aunts!

2. We Are the Forbears of a Very Stubborn Family Seeker (to the tune of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General”)

(By COA, with slow solo by FG)

We are the forebears of a very stubborn family seeker
Who won’t stop even when the scent is faint and getting weaker,
Our names are legion: Moore and Floyd and Brinlee, Dodd and McElroy
Norman, Matlock, Poore and Boyd and Finley, Todd and Pomeroy!

We’ve hidden in the census and we’ve dodged behind a muster roll
Found refuge in taxation lists and such assorted folderol,
But when we really want to hide, we choose to do it in plain sight
Just making sure our names are never EVER fully spelled quite right!

Just making sure our names are never EVER fully spelled quite right!
Just making sure our names are never EVER fully spelled quite right!
Just making sure our names are never EVER EVER EVER fully spelled quite right!

In fact when she knows what is meant by chart of consanguinity
When she can differentiate between close kinship and affinity
When she can calculate the probability of paternity
You’ll say her research will endure intact for all eternity.

You’ll say her research will endure intact for all eternity.
You’ll say her research will endure intact for all eternity.
You’ll say her research will endure intact for all eterni-terni-ternity.

(As fast as possible)
For all her family knowledge, though she’s plucky and adventurey
Has only gone as far back as the tenth or eleventh century,
But still in matters historical, heraldic, and nonsensical
You’ll say that she’s an expert who’s completely common-sensical.

3. With Eyes Sore and Red (to the tune of “With Catlike Tread”)


With eyes sore and red, we climb the family tree,
No sleep at all, we’re staying up ‘til three.
Don’t stop the search, you’ll never find that heir
You’ll end up without a prayer!

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here:
GenWeb, Footnote, NARA,
Cyndi’s, D-A-R – yeah!

Let’s do demography -
And a proper bibliography!

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here:
Hiram, Ebenezer,
Hopestill, Jane, Louisa.

Let’s find that plat book:
At metes and bounds let’s take a look!

Here’s your white gloves and your flashlight!
Here’s your Shown Mills – you may want to cite!

Take this census form, show due diligence.
Check the Guion Miller Roll, and maybe find the 'rents!

4. If Someday It May Happen (to the tune of “If Someday It May Happen” aka “I’ve Got a Little List”)


If someday it may happen that a culprit must be found
I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list
Of genealogy’s offenders whose research is never sound
Who never would be missed, who never would be missed.

There’s Jaded Gedcom Grabbers who’ve never done a search
And when you ask them for their sources, leave you in the lurch,
Or the gent who must invent his lineage – purely fabrications
He’s never checked a date of birth or counted generations.
But when you tell him, “Do the math!” or “Cease, cur, and desist!”
He’ll flip you off and huff and puff
And end up on the list, he’ll end up on the list.

And Random Searchers, Crass Collectors, even cousins twice removed
Without whose constant importuning life would be much improved!
Who must regale you with the numbers of their ahnentafel lists.
They’d none of them be missed, nor their bloody awful lists.

And even our own ancestors are not above reproach;
They might be on the list, just might be on the list.
Murderers, swindlers, gamblers, gangsters, some who like to poach -
They’ll anyway be missed, we know they would be missed.

There’s Hiram Brinlee, tried for murder, who relied on gun and fist
He’s on the Wanted List – oh, yes, the Wanted List!
For dubious land speculation take Charles Augustus Floyd.
Delinquent taxes everywhere – I really am annoyed!
Oh, yes, he’s on the list, the tax delinquents’ list!

Sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.


  1. Brilliant! Outstanding! WOW!!!

    Me thinks I am skipping this one! I cannot even begin! LOL

  2. Bravo Greta! My ears are ringing a bit from all that stretching but I gotta give you credit for creativity! You did a fine job of telling your family history. :-)

  3. This is great, Greta! Wonderful

  4. Wonderful! You get a standing ovation! Applause! Applause! Applause! Wish I had a bit of your creativity!!

  5. Oh my gosh, Greta, these are EPIC!
    *standing ovation*


  6. Greta, the Great! Very clever! And I laughed and giggled my way through the sets. Definitely a grabber for hubby and children.

  7. Greta -

    #1 - Yes, you CAN write poetry (and very well).

    #2 - These are so entertaining - I'm waiting for the Broadway show!

    100 Years in America
    Small-leaved Shamrock
    A light that shines again
    Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture

  8. That is an incredibly creative way to grab your family's attention. Fantastic job.

  9. Thank you all so much for your generous comments. And Lisa, you know, if a bunch of the genea-poets put their collective efforts together, I could see it: Ode to My Family's History - Coming to a Genealogy Convention near You!

  10. That was awesome! I loved the way you set it to music!

    Very good job!

  11. Just awesome! Loved it ever so much!!!

  12. Hi, Greta - as a G & S fan who has in my days put my own words to their compositions, I loved your posting. Brilliant. Susan.

  13. Susan - Thank you so much! I think Sir Arthur was especially brilliant to write the melodies to which it is so much fun to put the words!

  14. HAH!! G & S got nothin' on you, Greta! So glad you gave this an iGene award, 'cuz I missed it the first time around. It's a riot!

  15. Aw, T.K. - I am so flattered to hear this from you, the master of getting every word right!