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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More Genealogy Humor: Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary follows up on one of her earlier blog posts by presenting more of the funniest, quirkiest, or most touching sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

After the GenealogyBank Blog article Genealogy Humor: 101 Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists was posted, we noticed many of you liked them so much that you shared the humorous quotes across social media sites such as Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest to spread the laughter around the genealogical community.

So here are a few more funny genealogy sayings to give you a chuckle and brighten your day!

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Funny Genealogy Expressions & Slogans

  • Definition of genealogy: When a step backward is true progress!
  • Don’t let your family tree suffer from root rot!
  • Finding a new ancestor is a blast from the past!
  • Genealogist’s favorite game: Ancestor Hide and Seek.
  • Genealogist’s favorite game show: Family Feud.
  • Genealogist’s hunting season: 12 Midnight 1 January — 11:59 P.M. 31 December.
  • Genealogist’s least favorite activity: Pruning the family tree!

funny genealogy saying: "Genealogists are always in a family way!"

  • Genealogists are always in a family way!
  • Genealogists are family tree huggers!
  • Genealogists are forebear hunters!
  • Genealogy is not done until the “past lady” sings!
  • Genealogy is simply TREEific!
  • Genealogy disease: Gensomnia.
  • How a genealogist greets a stranger: “Are you sure we aren’t related?”
  • How a genealogist greets another genealogist. “Would you like to join my famclub?”
  • How a genealogist introduces his children: “I’d like you to meet my descendants!”
  • How a genealogist introduces his parents: “Have you met my ancestors?”
  • I’m ancestrally challenged!
  • If you want to have some fun, say “Who’s your daddy?” to a room full of genealogists and watch the heads turn.
  • It’s hard to be humble with ancestors like mine!

funny genealogy saying: "Money doesn't grow on trees--but ancestors do!"

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  • Money doesn’t grow on trees—but ancestors do!
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: After solving a dead end ancestor mystery that consumed your entire adult life, your sister reports, “I could have told you that!”
  • Murphy’s law of genealogy: Paying for a vital record and then finding it right under your nose!
  • Old genealogists never die. They just haunt archives.
  • Organization to help with genealogy addiction: AA (Ancestors Anonymous).
  • Popular sign in a cemetery: “Dead End.”
  • The best ancestors want to be found!
  • The “mother lode” of genealogy is discovering a great grandmother’s maiden name.

funny genealogy saying: "Time and genealogy wait for no man!"

  • Time and genealogy wait for no man!
  • To a genealogist, the expression “Mother Nature” takes on a whole new meaning!
  • Transcribers of headstones generally work the graveyard shift!
  • True genealogists wonder why the Academy Awards don’t have a category for best microfilm!
  • Ultimate success to a genealogist: Proving that Elvis isn’t dead!
  • What a genealogist should not say on a blind date: “Isn’t it great? I did your tree and we’re related!”
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you find the certainty of ancestral death and tax records exciting. (Paraphrased from Ben Franklin’s “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”)
  • If you think Castle Garden is something out of a fairy tale, you’re probably not a genealogist!

More Family History Funnies from Our Readers

The following hilarious comments were shared by readers after the first funny genealogy quotes blog post went live. If you have some of your own humorous quotes and sayings for genealogists, please share them with us in the comments!

1) Here is an old epitaph bromide: On an old tombstone was the following quote,
“Pause stranger, when you pass me by, As you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So prepare for death and follow me.”
Below that epitaph someone scratched the following, “To follow you I’m not content, Until I know which way you went.”  —from David on 7 March 2014.

2) Headstone epitaph: “This is the damndest thing I’ve ever done.”  —from George on 26 January 2014.

3) “You know you’re a genealogist when you watch a movie that has a scene in a graveyard, and you’re distracted from the plot by trying to transcribe the tombstones.” —from Kay on 23 January 2014.

GenealogyBank’s Genealogy Quotes Pinterest Boards

If you’d like to laugh a little and enjoy more genealogy sayings and quotes, be sure to follow our GenealogyBank Pinterest boards listed below.

Genealogy Humor & Funnies

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Genealogy Humor: 101 Funny Quotes & Sayings for Genealogists

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 sayings about genealogy that she’s encountered in her career as a family historian.

One thing I’ve noticed is that family historians have great senses of humor—and often come up with funny genealogy sayings.

So I searched high and low, and came up with my top list of 101 funny genealogy sayings. Most are similar to others that are displayed without attribution, so I’ve taken a few liberties in compiling what I consider the most humorous versions!

a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy Humor” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy Humor” Pinterest board

If I’ve omitted any funny genealogy quotes, be sure to add your personal favorites in the comments section so that we can all have a few more chuckles.

Funny Family Tree Sayings

  • If you shake your family tree, watch for the nuts to fall.
  • Some family trees have more sap than others (and mine certainly has more than its fair share).
  • Genealogists never fade away; they just lose their roots.
  • If you don’t tend your roots, the tree may wither away.
  • Family tree research is one giant step backwards and one giant step forward—usually at the same time.

Genealogy saying: "If you shake your family tree, watch for the nuts to fall."

Funny Genealogy Quotes & Definitions

  • Family history is all about recording “his story & her story.”
  • Definition of mythology: genealogy without documentation.
  • Genealogy is all about chasing your own tale.
  • Famous quote that applies (all too often) to questionable genealogy: “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” —Mark Twain
  • “Just the facts, Ma’am.” —(commonly, but incorrectly) attributed to Joe Friday of the TV show Dragnet.
  • “Genealogy: An account of one’s descent from an ancestor who did not particularly care to trace his own.” —Ambrose Bierce
  • Genealogists are time travelers.
  • A great genealogist is a time unraveler.
  • Genealogy: In the end, it’s all relative.
  • A genealogist is someone who knows that all grandparents are great grandparents!
  • Genealogy is sometimes about proving that bad family traits came from the other side of the tree!

Genealogy saying: "Genealogy is all about chasing your own tale."

Funny Sayings about Cousins & Other Relatives

  • Can a first cousin once removed be returned?
  • A cousin a day keeps the boredom away.
  • A great party is when everyone joins in the gene pool.
  • An inlaw is someone who has married into your family; an outlaw is an inlaw who resists letting you do their genealogy!
  • If your family members won’t talk about a particular relative, a seasoned genealogist knows they are keeping mum about something very interesting.
  • Moment of Truth for a genealogist: discovering you are your own cousin.
  • If you don’t know who the family black sheep is, it’s probably you.
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Humorous Genealogy Quotes for Signs, Bumper Stickers and T-Shirts

  • Do you know where your great grandparents are?
  • After 30 days, unclaimed ancestors will be discarded or claimed by another family.
  • So many ancestors; so little time.
  • I brake for ancestors.
  • I chase dead relatives.
  • I’m ancestrally challenged.
  • Where there is a will, you’ll find a genealogist!
  • Genealogists do it in libraries or in trees.
  • Sign for a genealogist’s home office: Family research zone. Disturb at your peril.
  • I am addicted to genealogy.
  • Who’s your great great granddaddy?
  • I only research genealogy on days that end in “y.”
a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy & Family Quotes” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Genealogy & Family Quotes” Pinterest board

Good Advice for Genealogists

  • Remember that when a family member passes away, they take a library of memories with them. It’s a genealogist’s duty to record them before that happens.
  • Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look into it, and pretty soon, interesting faces appear.
  • The kind of ancestors you have is not as important as the kindness of their descendants.
  • If you are the last living link between your grandparents and your grandchildren—don’t break the chain.
  • If you don’t want your descendants to put a twisted spin on your life story, write it yourself!
  • If you’re the family photographer (and not showing up in photos), your family historian descendants will become upset with you.
  • To get your family tree done the fastest, run for political office. Your opponents will have it completed way before the election, and then you can resign if you really didn’t wish to run in the first place.
  • Many genealogists neglect telling their own stories, while in the midst of telling the stories about others. Don’t let that happen to your family.
  • Your children may not thank you, but if you preserve the family genealogy your great great great great descendants will remember you as super-great!
  • If someone’s picture looks like they don’t belong in the family tree, well, maybe they don’t.
  • Some think it’s best to grow a family tree one leaf at a time—but as with the spring, you may find that many buds can be produced at the same time.
  • Don’t take life seriously. Every genealogist knows nobody gets out alive.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, search, search again. That is why we call it re-search.

Genealogy saying: "Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look into it, and pretty soon, interesting faces appear."

Hilarious Observations about Genealogists

  • Genealogists don’t get Alzheimer’s, they just lose their census.
  • Eventually, all genealogists come to their census.
  • Housework avoidance strategy: Genealogy!
  • There’s a fine line between a packrat and a serious family historian.
  • A home with everything in its place, and a place for everything, means you’re not well suited for genealogy!
  • Can’t find enough ancestors? No problem. Let me adopt you. I’ve got more than enough to share.
  • Does your family coat of arms have too many or too few sleeves?
  • Taking your children to meet family at a reunion is often an effective form of birth control.
  • Genealogical paydirt is discovering the ancestor who was the family packrat!
  • Heredity might be better spelled as heir-edity.
  • I can’t find my ancestors, so they must have been in a witness protection program!
  • Motivated genealogists scan once—and then share across the Internet!
  • A genealogist’s bad heir day is when you can’t find what you are looking for.
  • A genealogist’s filing system usually incorporates the floor.

Genealogy saying: "There's a fine line between a packrat and a serious family historian."

Oxymorons, Enigmas & Theories about Genealogy

  • Oxymoron: “I love history, but I dislike genealogy.” Don’t you want to tell these people that genealogy is family history?
  • Genealogical enigma: How so many published trees record people who died before they were born.
  • Genealogy theorem: There is a 100% chance that those elusive ancestors weren’t interested in genealogy.
  • Genealogy theorem: The odds that you are related to yourself are probably not less than 100%.
  • Theory of relativity: If you go back far enough, we’re all related.
  • Murphy’s Law of Genealogy: Your ancestor’s maiden name will be recorded on the one record page that is missing.
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Funny Cemetery Quotes

  • A genealogist is a person who leaves no stone unearthed.
  • A cemetery is a marble garden not to be taken for granite.
  • Selecting a tombstone is usually a monumental task.
  • Go ahead and honk your horn in the cemetery. It’s not possible to wake the dead.
  • A cemetery is where “down under” takes on an entirely new meaning.
a screenshot of GenealogyBank’s “Our Ancestors Said...” Pinterest board

GenealogyBank’s “Our Ancestors Said…” Pinterest board

You Know You’re a Genealogist if…

  • You know you’re a genealogist if the top item on your Christmas list is a genealogy subscription!
  • You know you’re a genealogist if your email contact list contains more distant cousins than immediate family.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever tried to inspire the next generation by whispering in a newborn’s ear, “Genealogy is fun.”
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you evaluate the surnames of acquaintances (along with complete strangers) to see how they might be related.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know all the maiden names of all your female friends—and if you don’t, you surreptitiously try to discover them.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you secretly celebrate a forebear’s birthday.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if the highlight of your last trip was a cemetery visit.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if no family member is ever treated as a black sheep (everyone is welcome).
  • You know you’re a genealogist when you realize your collection of DNA results is more important than your nick knacks.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you immediately understand these abbreviations: BC, DC, MC and VR.
  • Answer the first associated words that come to mind: Ellis, family and vital. If you answered Island, history and record, you know you’ve become a genealogist.
  • You might be a genealogist if you think family history is an ancestral game of hide and seek.
  • You might be a genealogist if dead people are more interesting to you than the living.
  • You might be a genealogist if you love living in the past lane.
  • You might be a genealogist if the phrase “relatively speaking” holds a truly unique meaning.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if a scanner and archival storage containers are more exciting gifts than jewelry (female) or football tickets (male).
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know what inst. and ult. stand for.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever repurposed your dining room table, and panic at anyone going near it.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if your vacation bucket list includes Fort Wayne, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C. (hopefully all in the same year).
  • You know your friend is not a genealogist if he/she doesn’t understand why these are top vacation destinations.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if there is a courthouse programmed into your GPS.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you’ve ever had your photo taken in front of a tombstone and you were actually smiling!
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know more about the past than the present.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you know what a GEDCOM and an ahnentafel are.
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you have no problem substituting your great great grandmother’s maiden name for your mother’s (in answer to a security question).
  • You know you’re a genealogist if you can name the county for most major cities in the United States! Admit it—many of you can assign these cities to their correct county: Atlanta, Cleveland, Newark, Houston, San Francisco…
  • If you think your family is normal, you probably aren’t a genealogist!
  • You know you’re hopelessly hooked on genealogy if you say “Honey, I’ll just be a few minutes on the computer,” and then find yourself awestruck by the sunrise.

Genealogy saying: "If you think your family is normal, you probably aren't a genealogist!"

I’d like to leave you with my favorite saying: “Genealogy isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion!”

GenealogyBank’s Pinterest Boards

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