Ten Genealogy Lessons “Game of Thrones” Teaches Us

Sketch of THE CORONATION CHAIR. Old and New London: a narrative of its history, its people, and its places by Walter Thornbury, 1873, page 461. Internet Archive.

During the television series Game of Thrones knowing how people were related, or who they descended from, becomes intrinsically important to each character and determines their fate. If you were related to any of the “great houses” of Westeros you could not avoid being swept up in the vast net of intrigue and conspiracy.

As for this story –spoilers ahead, sort of. I am using quotes from various seasons of the acclaimed HBO: Game of Thrones series to demonstrate ten genealogy lessons we can learn from watching “Game of Thrones.” Only one of these quotes was taken from this final season. They are not really plot spoilers, as the quotes are taken out of context, and the scene behind the words are not explained.

“Square Head” advertisement in the Boston Globe, September 2, 1918. Trench warfare; WWI France; War dead 1914-1918. Stereograph. Sept 18, 1919.

1. “The dead are here.” — Daenerys Targaryan
Whether you are new to genealogy or consider yourself a “professional,” you still face the fact that most of the people you research are dead. The big difference is that instead of the dead hunting for you, the living are hunting for them. Any careful researcher will easily spend as much time researching an ancestor’s death as they do their life: how (cause), when (date) where (location), what (probate), who (named in will).

2. “The things I do for love.” – Jaime Lannister
If you work on your family tree long enough, you will sooner or later discover the ‘skeletons in the closet.’ Perhaps your grandmother had a child out of wedlock, or a great-grandfather was a felon. Be aware that proudly introducing these skeletons at the next family gathering may make gramma keel over in her chair, and your aunt never speak to you again. Think carefully before you blurt.

3. “You want to know the horrible truth. I can’t remember what she looked like. She was the one thing I ever wanted.”– King Robert Baratheon
Putting a face on a name in your family hierarchy is a glorious feeling. Collecting, identifying and then sharing the wonderful (and sometimes odd) features that we might have inherited cannot be downplayed. Today is a good day to contact older members of your family who are the keepers of the family albums.

Ancient fire place with hearth stone in the Medad Stone Tavern in CT. Photograph by J.W. Brown

4. “I don’t plan to knit by the fire, while men fight for me.” — Lady Lyanna Mormont
Just like in the history books, the women in most genealogies tend to receive less of our research time. The women of our blood line were heroines, strong women each in their own way. Spending time with their stories helps us to learn why our ancestors survived, and how we came to be. If your mother, grandmother, or great grandmother are still alive, now is a good time to ask them what their most difficult life challenges have been. Be sure to add that to your genealogy narrative.

5.”Shame. Shame.” — Septa Unella
At some point along your trip into the past you will make a mistake, actually several mistakes. Someone will come along and point it out to you as if you are a tragic joke of a genealogist. When it happens (notice I don’t say IF it happens), don’t spend too much time on the walk of shame. Admit to the error, thank the person who corrects you, and repair your tree. We all make faulty assumptions, and not a single genealogist I know (after 45+ years at it) is perfect, including myself.

6. “If you think this has a happy ending, then you have not been paying attention.” — Lord Ramsay Bolton
One of the more difficult issues you will have to get used to is learning that many of your ancestors did not have happy endings. Perhaps several family members were wiped out by disease or natural disaster. Maybe they died in a war, or by their own hand. Genealogists who empathize with those they research need an outlet–a positive pastime they can perform when the stories become too grim. It can be a simple thing like reading an inspirational book or listening to music. Find your happy place when the dark endings get you down.

Chapel Doors, Valley Cemetery, Manchester NH. Photograph by Kathi Webster.

7. “Hold the Door” — Hodor/Wylis
A cousin recently mentioned that another researcher  had hijacked her family tree and claimed it, along with photographs and documents as if they were her own. It was very clear that the person claiming was not related and had used faulty research. But that didn’t stop her even after being corrected. We are conflicted, wanting to publicly share our research and family treasures, but on the other hand a situation like this leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Do we hold the door open, or try to keep it closed, even though passage is inevitable?

8. “A bruise is a lesson and each lesson makes us better.” — Arya Stark
Genealogists all start from ground zero. We don’t know much about research even with all the internet tools we have at our disposal. We spend hours on something only to discover that the entire history was already available with resource foot notes, or we assumed a surname because of a tree we saw on the internet. Researching genealogy (or anything) is a series of lessons we learn. We learn best from the worst of our mistakes.

9. “Sometimes a man has to make hard choices, choices that might look wrong to others, but are right in the long run.” — Samwell Tarly
If you watch some of the popular family tree television shows you often see a celebrity being surprised (or shocked) by some dramatic past event. One of these shows created negative publicity when the celebrity was adamant about not revealing a fact in their ancestor’s life. A good researcher is going to want to know everything, the entire truth. What you reveal to the public is always your choice. Do what is right for you.

Celebration silhouette from Building and Engineering News by Contractors’ and Dealers’ Association of California, 1914. Internet Archive

10. “There are no men like me. Only me.” — Jaime Lannister.
My final point has to do with you. Only you. Genealogists work long hours to write about people of the past and we entirely neglect ourselves. Someone will want to know about you some day. What were were your aspirations and trials. Spend a little bit of time today writing up how you would like people to remember YOU, and add that to your genealogy. Some day, some one will be glad you did.

***ADDITIONAL READING***

Time: The Definitive Guide to the Game of Thrones Family Tree

Reddit: Natural Dragonstone Throne in New Hampshire

Not a Blog: George R.R. Martin

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3 Responses to Ten Genealogy Lessons “Game of Thrones” Teaches Us

  1. Rebecca Walbecq says:

    Well written and and very relevant. I don’t watch the show myself, but I don’t have to, I really enjoyed reading your post!

  2. I love love love this post, Janice! I’ve never watched the show but appreciate every point you made. Been there, done that…only the last needs to be worked on.

  3. Amy says:

    Wonderful lessons, and like Cathy and Rebecca, I’ve never watched Game of Thrones, but still found this post insightful! Maybe most genealogists don’t like GOT??

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