Oct 30, 2010

"Do you know the name of your great grandfather’s father?"

A conversation with an average man:
"Do you know about the lives of the mighty Indian kings of the Chola kingdom and their history"?
"History about the kings?? Who cares about a king who ruled my country 1000 years ago? He is not related to me by any means. I’m an earnest family man. It’s a competitive world. I care only about my family. And I don't feel bad to be selfish."
"Agreed. So only your family is important for you. OK, so what is the name of your great grandfather's father?"

"Well.. Err….. ?!?!?!?????!!"

If indifference to history is reasoned to be because of selfishness, what could be one good reason behind not even knowing one’s own family’s history?

Genealogy is the study of family histories and tracing lineages. I’ve known 5 generations above my ancestral tier. It’s not just a hobby that is exciting and satisfying, but it also brings out a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations. With the emergence of social media sites like Facebook, the concept of "building one's network" has become so popular. Many genealogy sites like ancestry.com have also sprouted. These sites help you build your own family tree where you can create a profile with all information for each of your family members and ancestors. Sparing a few moments of your Facebook time and building your family tree with a little research could yield wonders (you can brag about your ‘big network’ here as well!). In the course of time, you may even end up tracing back your ancestry to ancient kings and even to different countries! Hitherto unknown family connections (with other users' family trees) can be uncovered too. It would be extremely interesting and satisfying (unless it happens that you discover your girlfriend to be your distant cousin :P)

It is very common in many Asian cultures to celebrate death anniversaries in commemoration of deceased family members. During such anniversaries, it is typical to do rituals in front of old photos of the deceased ancestor with offerings of all the food dishes which were the ancestor's favorites during his/her life time. Sometimes, the rituals continue with a food offering to cows and crows too. And after the rituals, the “offered” food is devoured in its full amounts by all the relatives who attend the ceremony. Rather than just seeing this as a ceremony just for the heck of it and for eating a sumptuous line up of food varieties, it could be rationally used for discussing about the life of the ancestor and making the young generation draw inspiration out of it! Here, the long tradition of ancestor worship is not being condemned, but rather it is insisted that a death anniversary should not just stop with a customary ritual. Instead, it should be a starting point to a worthy learning of a lifetime to younger generations! With the ancestors being consciously remembered and learnt from, every year, can there be a better way to make their souls rest in peace?

Today there are over 25 million people of Indian origin, who live in different countries of the world. They have emigrated to the Malay archipelago, South Africa, Caribbean islands, Canada, US, UK, Australia and to many other countries. But most of these people have lost their Indian identity, ethnic authenticity and forgot their ancestral connections. Blame them not, when someone in your household doesn’t know the name of your great grandfather’s father. 
Oh, is that YOU I’m referring to, here?!


  1. Hey Hemanth!
    Interesting post. I have always wondered abt my roots too. Stories handed down by older relatives says that my great grandfather was a big rubber estate owner in Ceylon-and coz of the civil unrest he had to abandon everything and move to TamilNadu. But I have never been to Sri Lanka nor do I really knw anyone frm thr. Its been my fantasy to mayb go thr and actually try finding out something! Also being a Christian I am sure my family must have converted from some other religion, mos probably Hinduism. So it wld b interesting to knw when and for wht reasons.....

  2. Hey Anne!
    Glad to know that you liked my post! The objective of this post is to make everyone realize the responsibility that everyone has, to preserve the past for the future generations. And then to ignite a passion thereon. Your genealogy interests have surfaced now :)

    I'll let you know some facts that I've known. This may be of some help to you.
    1) Your great grandfather having lived in Sri lanka may lead to either of two things. A little history- huge populations of Indian Tamils had been sent by the British during the 19th century to work in the coffee, tea and rubber plantations in Sri Lanka. But almost all of them were repatriated to India during later years. (Interestingly, cricketer Muttaiah Muralidharan's story is exactly this, but his family stayed back). In course of time some could've owned estates before leaving Sri Lanka. While this could've been one possibility, the other could've been that your great grandfather was a native of Ceylon and owned rubber estates. I assume most of your other relatives had been in India, and in that case, the first possibility should be the case.

    2) About your religion: Almost all South Indian and Srilankan Christians and are converts from Hinduism. If you wanted to know when this conversion could've happened, you could know it from whether you are a Roman Catholic or a Protestant (or a CSI). If you are an RC, then it could've happened any time after the arrival of the missionary from the Society of Jesus- Francis Xavier in the 16th century. He was responsible for mass conversions in our areas. If you are a Protestant, then it could've been after the arrival of the Dutch Protestant missionary Philippus Baldaeus in the 17th century who did mass conversions of the pearl fishermen and the other existing RCs. You should also know that your religious conversion could've happened even as early as the 1st century during St. Thomas' period, though this is a very rare case.

    An advice: Just research and find 2 levels above your grandfather. You'll get a great deal of information. It's still not late. What you could get now will be impossible for your subsequent generation! :)

  3. very interesting post my friend. I have long wanted to do a family tree, and even downloaded a program to help me do it. i just never really got down to it; maybe next time i go to India, i can consult with older family members to do it!

  4. thanks SCSP! Better start it soon, my friend! I know your case is so intriguing. For one, your last name refers to a particular clan, but once you said you actually don't belong to that clan at all! How more interesting could that get?!

    I know there's gonna be mix of nationalities in near future. Your subsequent generations may be totally bewildered when they try tracing their roots. They may hardly have a clue that their great grandfather (you) was born in that distant country!! :)

  5. Hey hemz,

    I too know 5 names of my ancestral tree.

    Very happy to feel on my attempt. You made my efforts worthy.

    Keep the good work


  6. Hi Hemanth,

    Appreciate your sincere response-though I must say that u have wrongly assumed that my "genealogy interest has surfaced now"!!
    As I have mentioned, my interest in tracing my roots surfaced long back-in fact I read your post itself precisely because it was about something that I was interested in ;-)
    Anyway I will try and heed your advice and let u know if something interesting comes up!
    (For example, my husband suggests that there might be some 'link-up' between my ancestors and the vellakaarans, sometime in the distant past and that is why I am fair and he is not! lol! Lets c ;-))

  7. Nice post...worth reading...:)
    btw I know upto 5 generations of my family...did a small research after reading this article...thanks ya..:) keep the gud work:)

  8. @Kalidasan: Nice to know that you've already known about many upper tiers of your ancestry! But also please preserve them in some solid form for eternity, so that it doesn't get lost in time!

    @Anne: Actually I didn't assume so, since it was very much palpable that you've already been having genealogy interests from your first comment! I just missed a winking smiley after my sentence! lol. And do let me know how your mission goes! Will be glad to learn something new! :)

  9. @Azhar: Very glad to know that the post has ignited genealogy ('responsibility', as I call it:) interest in you! :)

  10. @Hemanth: Great article! I do have my family tree posted online from 1660s with more accuracy ~ It makes me feel good to read such an article now.. I bet anyone will be delighted to know even little details about your great grandfathers! Try it out..

  11. Hi,
    Right said; and glad to know that you've been maintaining your ancestry tree since a long time. And yes, I had created and been maintaining one as well, which made me post this! :)

  12. Thalaikattu avanangal ( Documents on generations) are available with Kulagurus of each community viz. kongu vellalar, nadar, chettiar, mudaliar, etc . I have retreived 12 of my generations of the past.The copper pattayam, stone scriptures , kanipadalkal stand as references. The gurus still worship the ancient lingam made of emerald, or aimpon till this day. please visit http;//kongukulagurus.blogspot.com

  13. Hi! this is a wonderful blog and this not only is entertaining but also thought provoking!!
    And I would like to mention that I know up to 7 generations of my ancestral lineage!

  14. thanks for the info, @piththa_piraisoodi!

    thanks, Giridhar! Keep following the blog :)

  15. Hemanth read this post very interesting how many generations have u traced and what's there origin, religion, etc do message me .KasirAni

  16. hey man ...it's gud to know about great grandparents...i know 7 gen above...we got family history book.tq...keep it up

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