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Treasures Through (Many) Generations

Posted On: June 26th, 2009 | Posted by: Dean


wenggallery_genealogy

Whenever I attend genealogy conferences as an exhibitor, I look for chances to either visit extended family nearby or perform research regarding our various family lines. I don’t have any deceased ancestors that spent time in southern California, but my mother lives up the coast a ways, and she’s joining me at the Genlighten booth for the SCGS Jamboree this weekend.

We took the opportunity yesterday before the Jamboree got underway to tour several of the galleries at the Huntington Library in nearby San Marino. The highlight was definitely “Treasures Through Six Generations:  Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection.” Basically a Chinese family has cultivated an impressive collection of art objects stretching back to the 15th century, preserved it and passed it on to succeeding generations, each of whom have added their own unique contributions. The family thus continues to honor their ancestors through fine art.

I was struck by the “Family Tree” highlighted in the gallery guide.  It looked a little different than the ones I’m used to. In particular, I noticed several arrows that appeared to tie branches of the family together laterally. The text accompanying the family tree explained what the arrows signified:

“Passing on the family name is of key importance in Chinese culture. The transfer of a son from one branch of a family to another by internal adoption, an old tradition very rarely practiced today, was essential in ensuring the survival of the family name and lineage. A father with several sons would bestow one on a brother who had none; ideally, every male would have an heir who would pass on the family name. The Weng family observed this practice (indicated here with arrows) for several generations.”

I found the tremendous importance this family placed on “the survival of the family name and lineage” simultaneously quaint and awe-inspiring. It helped me step back from the often inscrutable details of my various familial lines and briefly glimpse the larger picture of my shared heritage. I was motivated by the exhibit to worry a little less about filling in blanks on a pedigree chart and to invest a little more effort in reaching across generations to strengthen actual family ties. It also made me wonder if I’m leaving a legacy to my descendants anything like the one Weng Xincun left to his. Even if I can’t afford to build a world-class collection of Chinese art masterpieces, surely there’s something I can leave to future generations!

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