101 Genealogy Proverbs: Family Sayings from around the World

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents 101 of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching proverbs about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

Since posting the article 101 Funny Quotes and Sayings for Genealogists on the GenealogyBank Blog, we’ve noticed that family historians share our affinity for quotes—especially ones related to genealogy and family. These genealogy quotes and sayings continue to generate comments and be shared on social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

Hopi proverb: "When the grandmothers speak, the earth will be healed."

As a continuation, I’d like to share a special type of quote from around the world: proverbs.

(Proverb: A short pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept.)

Based in ancient cultures, these adages pass from generation to generation, using metaphors and analogies to instill societal values. Many proverbs are shared among the cultures of the world—but some are unique to individual regions, so if known, the name of the country follows the quote.

No matter where your ancestry originated, I hope you’ll enjoy some of my favorite genealogy-related proverbs.

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African Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

This region has generated more family history proverbs than most, due primary to beliefs regarding ancestors and ancestor worship.

  • “A child doesn’t belong to the mother or father; a child belongs to his ancestors.”
  • ”A parent should not give up modeling their children, because the ancestors never give up on us.”
  • ”As you do for your ancestors, your children will do for you.”
  • ”Blessings of ancestors are greater than those of living human beings.”
  • “Children are the reward of life.” (Congo)
  • “Dreams are voices of ancestors.”
  • “If you know his father and grandfather you may trust his son.” (Moroccan)
  • “If you lie, the ancestors will punish you.”
  • “It is better to be kind to your neighbors, than to cross the world to offer incense to your ancestors.”
  • “Many births mean many burials.” (Kenya)
  • “More precious than our children are the children of our children.” (Egypt)
  • “No man can outwit the ancestors.”

African proverb: "No man can outwit the ancestors."

  • “Old men and women in the village are books of history and wisdom.”
  • “Open your ears to the ancestors and you will understand the language of spirits.”
  • “Remember the wisdom of your ancestors in order to become wise.”
  • “Silence brings wisdom of the ancestors.”
  • “The ancestors may annoy you, but don’t make the mistake of annoying them back, or they may annoy you forever.”
  • “The future emerges from the past.” (Senegal)
  • “To neglect one’s ancestors would bring ill-fortune and failure in life.”
  • “Treat the world well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was willed to you by your children.” (Kenya)
  • “We have not inherited this land from our ancestors; rather we have borrowed it from our children.” (Kenya)

Kenyan proverb: "We have not inherited this land from our ancestors; rather we have borrowed it from our children."

  • “When you live next to the cemetery, you cannot weep for everyone.”
  • “Without history, [there is] no life.” (Nigeria)

Asian and Indonesian Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A house without children is a graveyard.” (India)
  • “Children yoke parents to the past, present and future.” (Japan)
  • “Consider the past and you shall know the future.” (China)
  • “Don’t take the straight path or the winding path. Take the path your ancestors have taken.” (Cambodia)
  • “Dream of a funeral and you hear of a marriage.” (China)
  • “Everything in the past died yesterday, and everything in the future is born today.” (China)
  • “Fruits of the same tree have different tastes; children of the same mother have various qualities.” (China)
  • “It is difficult to repay the gifts you get at a wedding or a funeral.” (China)
  • “Learn about the future by looking at the past.” (India/Tamil)
  • “Married couples who love each other tell each other a thousand things without talking.” (China)
  • “Only fools seek credit from the achievements of their ancestors.” (China)
  • “The baby has not been born yet, and yet you assert that his nose is like his grandfather’s.” (India)
  • “The old should be treated with due respect. Children should be treated with gentleness.” (Japan)
  • “The only things that were missing at the rich man’s funeral were mourners.” (China)
  • “The past is the future of the present.” (Japan)
  • “The past remembered is a good guide for the future.” (China)
  • “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” (China)

Chinese proverb: "To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."

  • “To understand your parents’ love, you must raise children yourself.” (China)
  • “You can be cautious about the future but not the past.” (China)
  • “When you have children yourself, you begin to understand what you owe your parents.” (Japan)
  • “Who has children cannot long remain poor; who has none cannot long remain rich.” (China)
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European Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “All of the Earth’s treasures can’t bring back a lost moment.” (France)
  • “An ounce of blood is worth more than a pound of friendship.” (Spain)
  • “Beloved children have many names.” (Hungary)
  • “Between husband and wife, one doesn’t put the spoon.” (Portugal)
  • “Children act in the village as they have learned at home.” (Sweden)
  • “Children travel from the heart to the heart.” (Sweden)
  • “Closeness without conflict only exists in the cemetery.” (Finland)
  • “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” (Italy)
  • “Everything goes by favor and cousinship.” (France)
  • “From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues come our honors.” (Latin)

Latin proverb: "From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues come our honors."

  • “Funeral sermon, lying sermon.” (Germany)
  • “Happy nations have no history.” (Belgium).
  • “He that hath no children doth bring them up well.” (England)
  • “He who has no fools, knaves, or beggars in his family was begot by a flash of lightning.” (England/Old English)
  • “He who teaches children learns more than they do.” (Germany)
  • “How did you rear so many children? By being fondest of the little ones.” (Portugal)
  • “If the family is together, the soul is in the right place.” (Russia)
  • “If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.” (Italy)
  • “If you want to be a hundred you must start young.” (Russia)
  • “Life is short, but there’s a lot to be done.” (Russia)
  • “Man learns from the cradle to the grave.” (Welsh)
  • “May you never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is best forgotten.” (Ireland)
  • “No matter how tall your grandfather was, you have to do your own growing.” (Ireland)
  • “Praise borrowed from ancestors is but very sorry praise.” (Denmark)
  • “Take an onion with you to the funeral.” (Sweden)
  • “The glory of ancestors should not prevent a man from winning glory for himself.” (Serbia)
  • “The grandson wants to remember what the father wished to forget.” (Spain)
  • “The Irish forgive their great men when they are safely buried.” (Ireland)
  • “The ones who brag most of their ancestors are unworthy of them.” (Denmark)
  • “The only real equality is in the cemetery.” (Germany)
  • “The remembrance of past sorrows is joyful.” (Britain)
  • “There was already twenty in the family, so my grandmother had a baby.” (Spain)
  • “Those who dislike cats will be carried to the cemetery in the rain.” (Netherlands)
  • “You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” (Russia)
  • “You have a lifetime to work, but children are only young once.” (Poland)
  • “You live as long as you are remembered.” (Russia)

Middle Eastern Genealogy Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A cemetery never refuses a corpse.” (Lebanon)
  • “All strangers are relations to each other.”
  • “Attend funerals and avoid weddings.”
  • “Burial is the way to honor the dead.”
  • “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.”
  • “Every day of your life is a page of your history.” (Arabian)
  • “Whoever has no children has no light in his eyes.” (Persia/Iraq)

Arabian proverb: "Every day of your life is a page of your history."

  • “How great the grandfathers are, but how regretful what they left behind.”
  • “When the judge’s mule dies, everyone goes to the funeral; when the judge himself dies, no one does.”

Caribbean, North and South American Genealogy Proverbs

  • “A beautiful funeral does not necessarily lead to paradise.” (Creole)
  • “A people without a history is like the wind over buffalo grass. (Native American/Sioux)
  • “Arriving and leaving, hoping and remembering, that’s what life consists of.” (Haiti)
  • “Home is the father’s kingdom, the children’s paradise, the mother’s world.” (American)
  • “Regard Heaven as your father, Earth as your mother, and all things as your brothers and sisters.” (Native American)
  • “Remember that your children are not your own, but are lent to you by the Creator.” (Native American)
  • “The daughter-in-law wipes away what the mother-in-law has seen.” (South American)
  • “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” (Native American/Haida)
  • “When the grandmothers speak, the earth will be healed.” (Native American/Hopi)
  • “When your own funeral is approaching, you don’t pick and choose your grave diggers.” (Jamaica)

Other Ancestry & Family-Related Proverbs & Sayings

  • “A wedding is like a funeral, but with musicians.” (Hebrew)
  • “Come for your inheritance and you may have to pay for the funeral.” (Hebrew)
  • “Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28)
  • “He who does not research has nothing to teach.” (Unknown)
  • “Hold on tight to the words of your ancestors.” (New Zealand)
  • “If you do not honor your parents, your children will not honor you.” (Hebrew)
  • “My fathers planted for me, and I planted for my children.” (Hebrew)
  • “Study the past if you would divine the future.” (Unknown)
  • “Walk in the valley of our ancestors, learn of the history, and marvel at the beauty.” (New Zealand)
  • “Who dances at the wedding, weeps at the funeral.” (Hebrew)

If you have some favorite genealogy-related proverbs, please share them with us in the comments section.

Sites to Research Proverbs:

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Written by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak, MBA, brings to the GenealogyBank Blog a blend of technical and genealogical research skills. In addition to having been a columnist with RootsWeb Review, she was president of a computer training/consulting firm for 15+ years, worked as an editor and has authored several genealogy books. You’ll find her an active contributor to a variety of online forums, RootsWeb’s WorldConnect, Findagrave.com and indexing projects.

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