Ancestor! Cure your erectile dysfunction now!

Holding onto your sanity can be tricky when your occupational raw material consists of the legions of the dead. So genealogists have to develop techniques to try to retain that little spark of normality, or at least to try to pass for normal. It’s time to share a couple.

First, keep things in proportion. At all costs, avoid ancestor worship. A single living person is worth every forebear you have – genealogy is not a matter of life or death, only the latter. Don’t place too much trust in history. The past is not a reliable guide to the future. The fact you haven’t died so far doesn’t mean you’re immortal.

And never forget that, however absorbing it can be, there is something inherently ludicrous about pursuing traces of the long-gone through mountains of decaying paper. Here’s one way I use to keep that sense of genealogy’s absurdity alive.

Familiar, no?

One of my jobs when I ran the Irish Times Irish ancestors subsite was to manage the main email address, This appeared on hundreds of pages across the site and was, of course, repeatedly harvested by spammers. In an effort to disguise their obnoxious shysterism, these people often take the first part of an email address, hoping that it is a personal name, and shoehorn it into the email subject line to try to personalise their pitch. In this case, the first part of the address being “ancestor”, some lovely incongruities resulted.

I collected them, God help me. Along with the census mistranscriptions, they have made a small but a significant contribution to whatever sanity I have left. Some of my favourites:

– Ancestor, reverse the signs of ageing.
– Ancestor! Fix your garage door now!
– Ancestor – let’s get together for lunch next week.
– Your background check is now available online, ancestor!

Not forgetting the evergreen:
– Ancestor! Cure your erectile dysfunction now!

12 thoughts on “Ancestor! Cure your erectile dysfunction now!”

  1. What a wonderful way to start out my day… at 4:50 in the bloody morning I will add! Thank you for the wise words, so true, so true – I do sometimes want to spend more time with these people I will never know, never share a meal with and for the most part, aren’t even my kin! Most of all, thank you for the laughter…great way to start my day. If you are ever in the Seattle area know that you have “family” here who would love to share a meal with you!

  2. You crack me up! Thank you for your delightful insight into the sometimes absurd things genealogists run across. Researching can get pretty dry at times, but your writings are a welcome distraction.

  3. If my ancestors really had erectile dysfunction, how in the world am I here? Looking back at the size of the families, I think the plumbing department was well oiled.

  4. A good reminder to be present in our own lives rather than always among the dead ancestors. And Ha! Your Irish Times page example uses my ancestors — Mattimo! Hope they weren’t the ones with erectile dysfunction! 🙂

  5. Based on what we could or could not find about our ancestors should help us determine what information we want to leave for future generations. We have the means to organize a large multi-media package about ourselves from a DNA sample to all the documents and images stashed in our drawers or computers. But who will care enough to go through it? I’ve scraped up bits and pieces about my ancestors’ lives primarily because I enjoyed the detective work. But when all the pieces are put together into a family tree of lives it’s my DNA file that holds real history; and it will have value in the future. So ancestor, I hope you didn’t pass on a gene for erectile dysfunction.

  6. Ah yes! Two of my favorite name mis-transcriptions to date: Bunns MacIntosh and Burpee Sardine. Then there were the cruel parents who named their daughter Olive Pickles. Fortunately, no one in my line had the job of penis tuner (do you Irish folk use the slang term “skin flute”?)

    1. Yes indeed we have many virtuoso skin flute players in Ireland but they prefer to be called dermal flautists!

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