Niece seeking relatives a royal pain
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My 20-year-old niece is suddenly taking an interest in our family genealogy, but I wish she wouldn’t. A few generations ago, we descended from a prominent French family who are still leaders in business and government. The relation who emigrated shortened his name and did not emphasize his ancestry. We, including my niece’s parents and grandparents, are self-made people – we don’t even know any specifics predating the immigration, so we have no details to give her.
This niece has decided to visit France and look up her “cousins.” I’ve tried to dissuade her. She is sure to be hurt and disappointed, for I can’t imagine a French diplomat giving more than a perfunctory welcome, if that, to a foreign stranger who arrives out of the blue and claims a connection. It’s so intrusive.
My suggestion that she research her ancestry through a library without bothering individuals is falling on deaf ears. Recently, she discovered a castle with the family name and is telling friends that she is related to French “royalty.”
I love my niece, but her intention to present herself to these distant relatives disturbs me. What would you suggest?
GENTLE READER: Waiting quietly to see how this plays out – not that you have any other choice. Miss Manners appreciates your distaste for snobbery and your family’s pride in self-achievement, but your niece is an adult and must develop her values for herself.
You have no way of knowing how these people will treat her, if, indeed, she can manage to see them. (Whatever their nationality, people who hold high government positions or are rich know how to protect themselves from strangers who claim to be long-lost relatives.) In that case, or if they just snub her, as you imagine, she may be cured of her princess fantasy.
But suppose they are welcoming? If they are, as you say, prominent in government and business, your niece will get a whole new lesson in respect for personal achievement. Aristocrats are not assured a free ride in the modern world, and she may well learn about New World values from the Old World.