Genealogy notes

Family tree updates

I've been making some significant revisions to the family tree, as well as uploading photos which are now linked to from the main page. 

On Genetics

An important effect of the progression of family history is that, in a sense, with each new generation one's number of ancestors doubles, yet at the same time the connection to those ancestor's diminishes. For example, one particularly admirable individual, Nicolaus Kranz (b. 1797) is six generations removed from the author, equating to a 1/32nd connection. Couple this with the fact that our ancestors procreated rather excessively (10 to 14 children is not uncommon), and this has the practical effect that some hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of living individuals today share that 1/32nd link. This results in a wonderful ancillary benefit: when one goes back far enough, you begin to join a rather legion group of genealogy researchers (which, in the glamorous field of genealogy, means you join one or two other researchers! :).
The image above demonstrates that genealogical data beyond the 16th generation is rather tenuous, since the odds are that not a single gene will carry down. Further, keep in mind that the 16th generation is so far distant (approximately 480 years past) that the viewer has 65,536 ancestors if we assume no pedigree collapse. Note that there are two exceptions to this rule: (1) Mitochondrial DNA, passed down through one's maternal lineage; (2) Y-Chromosome gene, passed down through the paternal lineage of males. Hence, this places particular value on long term genealogical data for data on one's purely maternal and paternal lines. 

What is in a name?


The name Basgen is quite unique, and for some time identifying its origins was a challenge until Fritz Basgen (my Dad's cousin) and I put our heads together. The basic challenge was that while all family history pointed to recent origins in Germany, "Basgen" is not a German name. 

Fritz had learned from his grandparents (Fred and Adda: my great grandparents) that our name had a second “s” in it before it was Americanized. Meanwhile, my grandfather, Donald Basgen, told me when I was around 10 years old I that our name had a umlaut before the encounter with Ellis Island [sic]. 

Putting these two pieces together, we seized upon our most likely family name: Bässgen! A Google search for this name reveals thousands of results, all from Germany.  I see a Bässgen AV technology store, and then a Herbert Bässgen, who is in the graffiti removal business. There seems to be a car dealer "Autohaus Bässgen", and the list seems to go on and on ad infintum. In fact, I found a web page with a few pictures of what could be some long lost relatives: Felix Peter & Christel Bässgen!

One way to "Americanize" the name would be to remove the umlaut, which renders: Baessgen. Since this may not have seemed palatable to English, the e could have simply been dropped. Additionally, “ss” can also be interchanged with a “ß” in German, creating Bäßgen or Baeßgen. Now, since our oral history indicates the double ‘s’, that is likely the historically correct usage.

While Bässgen seems to be a name with German origins, it certainly isn't common, which could indicate a regional name. This lead me to do a quick Google search of our name with each (modern) state of Germany. I predictably pulled up the most results for Berlin and then Hamburg. I also got quite a few results for Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, and Schleswig-Holstein. This isn't terribly helpful without more in depth research, but it excludes some common regions for immigrants such as Palatinate and Bavaria. Of those five states that yielded the most results, Hamburg, Bremen and Holstein are all in the northwest of Germany, while Berlin is northeast, and Baden is southwest. That could identify Hamburg, Bremen and Holstein as good starting points.

Another curiosity is in pronunciation. Phonetically, we pronounce it Bassjin, which is a curious deviation from the spelling, with the oddest substitution being the “g”, which would more appropriately be a “j”. Naturally, this invites people to constantly mangle the pronunciation of our name.  I can only crassly guess that this is an Ellis island error, but I really have no clue. 

Why Genealogy?


As near as I can tell, it started when I was five years old. That summer our family traveled to Duluth,  Minnesota, where the original Basgen family had emigrated to on their arrival in the United States. For the first and last time, I met my great grandfather, Frederick Basgen. 

I will never forget that moment. While the feeling evades rational explanation, I felt a deep connection with my great grandfather that day, and ever since, I’ve wanted to know his story. Yet, that isn’t quite enough. After all, I was merely so fortunate to have met him, it may never have happened! Thus, what more have I missed? What about his wife Adda, or their parents? The questions, once the momentum begins, know no end!

Genealogy is the superego of the auto-biographer, setting out as psuedo-historian, searching for a personal history of events not quite personal, yet decidedly so. In such an engagement one naturally tends toward certain embellishments, bias and distortion. 

There is a sense of culture in family history; not only that culture predicates family, but that one’s family history adds a unique flavor to one’s cultural sauerkraut. This is not a popular American pursuit, since part of American culture is the idea that culture is bunk, and naturally this comes from places both good (against aristocracy) and bad (gross individualism).

Genealogy offers us a personal connection to history that we do not otherwise get from any other type of history, and  for these reasons I find it an enjoyable pursuit.