49 Comments

  1. I think the name is just a very standard family name selected to offend no-one in particular (or to offend millions) – “The German word Müller means “miller” (as a profession). It is the most common family surname in Germany” according to Wikipedia – like having a similar book spined Smith in the UK.

    I imagine that by doing their genealogy research this couple have uncovered appalling people behaving atrociously in some historical period, the most obvious being the Nazi era.

    In the UK we have a programme called Who Do You Think You Are? https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007t575, which has been going since 2004 (and I see a US version started in 2010), in which celebrities like Ian McKellen and JK Rowling and Josh Widdecombe find interesting, uplifting or dangerous and embarrassing people in their ancestry. Occasionally a celebrity is approached to see if they want to participate and after the researchers have done their work they come back and say, actually, you don’t have any interesting antecedents and that programme doesn’t go ahead.

  2. So you guys are thinking it’s a binder, possibly from a large set, and they’ve got down the Müller volume.? Makes sense; but I was wondering if there is a sort of standard reference work for German genealogy, known as Müller for the author or editor. Like “Let’s look it up in Debrett’s” .

  3. I sent in an answer earlier but it seems to have been held up – when I tried a resend it said I had already sent that comment. I assumed the delay was because of the 4-letter N-word I used, but then I see Philip’s comment got through OK.

    The other point I made was that Müller is, according to WikiP, the most common surname in Germany, so no one particular Müller is likely to be personally affronted.

  4. @narmitaj Yes, one of your comments got classified as spam, by the Akismet spam detector — whose parameters we really don’t have much say in setting. From the commenter’s perspective, you can guess this may have happened when your comment does not appear, and you do NOT get a “your comment is being held for moderation” notice, in fact no feedback or response from the system 😦 . I fairly often run thru the Spam list individually deleting them and keeping an eye out for a known actual commenter, but it is hard to do that quickly without missing something — so when you think your comment has been lost that way (no moderation notice) you might write in about it or post to that effect, and I can be more alert to not toss it in my hurry.

    So in fact I un-spammed your comment – which places it in the moderation list. I will approve it now. Readers, held-then-approved comments seem to get filed in the chronology by their original posting time, so don’t blame narmitaj for his duplication …

  5. My MIL is an avid genealogist and likes to say that newbies start trying to document that family story that they are related to Mary Todd Lincoln (it’s always Mary Todd Lincoln) but instead are shocked to discover their ancestors were horse thieves and bigamists.

  6. Just ran across this. Maybe this is the Mu”ller they are worried about being linked to.

    Multi-Million Euro Award for Philosopher of Artificial Intelligence
    5h ago
    Vincent C. Müller, currently professor of philosophy and ethics of technology at the Technical University of Eindhoven, was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship to support his work on the philosophy of artificial intelligence.

  7. Nothing like that simple, @beckoning. Multiple links can trigger moderation, but that is a less severe fate. So will being a first-time-commenter (going by email address basically) . But it would have to be a somehow suspicious link or address to be tossed as spam.

    I don’t see what it was about narmitaj’s first comment (now posted as the first comment on this thread) that triggered Akismet (spam detection service); unless perhaps the N+3letters name. But as has been pointed out, others have used it here, so what gives?

  8. Speaking ONLY for myself: I’m of 100% German ancestry; one of my cousins traced us back to the pre-Civil War wave of German immigration. But I am not interested in exploring genealogy. Almost certainly distant cousins were Nazis. Why would I want to find out the gory details?

    It is vitally important that we remember the Holocaust (and other genocides). But that’s remembering the victims, and the system that made them the victims.

    I might compare this to how elements in the American South remember the Civil War. Statues are erected to the “heroes” decades later, in order to whitewash (literally). Where was the Tubman statue (etc.)? Where was the remembrance of the victims of slavery, until fairly recently?

    In short, what we choose to emphasize in history is a personal choice based on our own values. I’m with WUMO; I don’t want to open that book.

    Sorry for the long post, and thank you for indulging me.

  9. I just don’t get the genealogy thing — your antecedents expand literally exponentially (and I’m using both of those terms correctly), so what’s the point? The further back you go the weaker the relation. It’s especially perplexing when you follow only the one thread that happened to give you your surname — it is no more or less relevant than the other 3, or 7, or 15, or 31 (etc., etc.) other antecedents whom your are equally descended from who didn’t happen to pass their name on to you.

  10. In the first chapter of one of Dickens’ novels he discusses people who go to great effort to trace their genealogy all the way back to Adam, only to find that they have a murderer in the family (i.e. Cain).

  11. Several of the Who Do You Are? programmes got people back to British royalty, but yes, go back far enough and everyone is related… 34 generations ago, which is about 850 years, we each have 8,589,934,592 g-g-g-g-&c-great grandparents, which is more than today’s world population, let alone what it was in 1170 (about 390 million, which is the number of gg-etc-gparents we had 29.5 generations ago).

    Another issue is that family trees are no doubt littered with “relatives” in official terms but not actually blood-related due to affairs and suchlike.

    I wasn’t particularly interested in genealogy until about a year ago, after a family funeral. I saw a thing called the Armitage Wheel, as opposed to a Tree, centred on a chap called SFArmitage, born 1830 who had 14 children with two wives (who were sisters). Armitage is my father’s mother’s maiden name (and my middle name, hence narmitaj when I was casting around for an internet handle).

    Just looking at that threw up some intriguing facts… SFA had two daughters called Susan, one 1868-1870, the other 1871-1958… bit like the Salvador Dali situation (he had a dead brother called Salvador). SFA’s longest-lived daughter died in 1970 – so so she died a full century after her sister Susan # I. (The actor Charles Dance found something similar on WDYTYA? – his father, who died when he was 3, had been 26 years older than Dance had been told and had a previous family. Dance found he had a pair of half-sisters – one 48 years older than him had lived long into Charles’s period of fame without trying to get in contact, dying in 1993, but the other had died in 1908, 38 years before Charles was born.)

    SFA’s son JJ also married twice… eight kids with one wife, including my grandmother, and one with a second wife, a young widow called Mary. This last child, Joseph Fox Armitage, was born in 1918, a year after my father, so he was technically my father’s uncle (or half-uncle) despite being a year younger. He became a Hurricane pilot in the Battle of Britain (though he doesn’t seem to have shot anything down) and was killed in a Spitfire in 1941 aged 22, over the sea. Oddly, my father had joined the RAF by that time and took his first flight a few weeks after his young uncle had died.

    The widow Mary had a son before she married my g-g-father – he also was in the RAF and also was lost in an aircraft over the sea during WW2. She died in 1977 at 93 having lost both husbands and both sons decades beforehand.

    On my mother’s side I found she had an uncle, her mother’s brother, Percy Humphrey, who was killed on the most disastrous day for the British Army in its history, when 19,240 men were killed – 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme (that figure doesn’t include French and German casualties).

    Of course, neither of these people are my direct ancestors. But I had never heard of most of these characters before a year ago (partly because I never met any of my grandparents, perhaps). I can see why people get dragged down a rabbit-hole of finding connections and odd stories in their family past.

    Sorry to go on at length!

  12. The point is that some Germanic family names are SO prevalent that tracing your own line back for more than, say, 4 generations becomes quite difficult in spite of the fact that German churches (especially) have accurate records back to the 1500s in many cases. You can read photocopies on several genealogy sites.
    I am an amateur genealogist (23 years) and happen to have had an ancestor bearing the name “Johann Schmidt” in Germany. Even though I knew he lived ca. 1850-1900, it took a LOT of digging with the help of a Standesamt and 4 levels of church hierarchy before I found the one “Johann Schmidt” relevant. Information from a few descendants helped, too. The name is exceptionally common – think of “John Smith” in English-speaking countries.
    In the cartoon, the genealogist, searching the common name “Muller”, simply doesn’t want to do all the work she sees facing her if she works more on the customer’s family tree.

  13. @Berber, I was startled when I found out that was a real song, as I had assumed it was made up for mention in Heinlein’s “All You Zombies”.

  14. @Mitch4 I haven’t kept many Heinlein books from my past, this one’s not ringing any bells. But it does suggest I need to look up some more of his stories. I read his book that had articles of his various trips to the USSR, and more opinion pieces most recently. Not as enjoyable, frankly, as his science fiction but nonetheless worth it to get an author’s historical views.

  15. @Berber, “All you Zombies” was one of Heinlein’s two prominent time-travel short stories (the other being “By His Bootstraps”, which I now see Wikipedia calling a novella). Both explore some of the classic logical contradictions available when you can time-travel, but resolve these paradoxes into a stable, non-paradoxical configuration.

  16. Now, there’s an interesting question, narmitaj — how far back do most people have to go in their family tree before there is, um, a loop? The answer must be somewhat different in large vs small communities (say, France versus Iceland). One could calculate it fairly easily using some spherical-cow-type assumptions about people’s network sizes.

  17. Heinlein wrote at least two classic time travel stories and at least two classic solipsism stories, and “All You Zombies” is in both categories (for the solipsism, the other one is of course “They”).

    I suppose his novel THE DOOR INTO SUMMER also counts as a classic time travel story, but it’s not one where paradoxes and such are the focus.

    And some of his later stuff like the latter part of THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS and I believe THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST (the latter of which I’ve never actually read) are arguably solipsistic (full of multiple variations of the same character) and FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD and TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET involve time travel (again, I’ve not actually read the latter of those two), but I gather only the most hardcore Heinlein fans would say any of those latter examples are “classic.”

  18. @Shrug yes, Door Into Summer has been a favorite Heinlein novel, and it does have time travel – though only once or twice with a time machine, and otherwise thru the other kind of forward jump by “cold sleep”.

    If you recall the story of the development of the time machine, there is some suggestion that Leonard Vincent jumped backward and somehow made his way to Italy and became Leonardo da Vinci. NOW in Safe Havens Bill Holbrook has a child living in the past as well as the present and explicitly makes his past identity to be Leonardo.

  19. My stepbrother is descended from President John Tyler. But, as it turns out, so are lots and lots of other people. John Tyler had 15 children, and one of his grandsons is still alive, or was this year.

  20. I’ve watched “Finding Your Roots” on PBS over the years, and am amazed they don’t seem to get stonewalled doing research. A cousin of mine has been running into roadblocks for years with privacy laws and such. I know more about my mother’s side of the family than I do my father’s.

    On “Finding Your Roots” the celebrity subjects do often find their ancestors were slaveholders or slaves, Jewish or Nazi, or fought in the American Civil War on either side. The Civil War stories can take unexpected turns.

    So, yeah, it’s entirely possible that the Mueller family in the comic found Nazis in their background. They probably aren’t alone.

  21. @ CaroZ – this looping/ sharing/ doubling up reminds me of a joke… a young man in a small town is interested in a young woman, but discovers she is his biological half-sister as his lotharious romeoing father had cheated on his mother. This is the case with the next two women the boy gets interested in, and he finally goes to his mother in despair. “Don’t worry,” she says. “He’s not your father.”

  22. Shrug, thanks for that clip! The page of the lyrics tells the story in the classic folklore way, a pattern of three.

    Narmitaj, you were ahead of me in drawing this point from the prior analysis of the idea of an ancestry tree, with a doubling of the number of required nodes at each generation. In graph-theoretic terms, it could not actually be a tree, which is defined as acyclic and as CaroZ observed, given the reality of human population on Earth, there would soon be cycles as you continued to extend it back.

  23. What fascinates me about ancestry is how incredibly unlikely it is that each one of us exists, when you think about it … every one of those 8 billion ancestral nodes going back to 1170 had to be slotted in place for me as me to exist, not to mention the unknowable trillions of nodes in the previous three billion years (and not to mention the previous billions of years of the universe, solar system and earth coalescing the way it did). And even with all those elements in place, to be indelicate for a moment, if my parents had gone up to bed 5 seconds later whatever night it was in 1957 that I was conceived, someone else and not me would have been born (after all, even identical twins are different people).

    Given those odds, the 14,000,000-to-one chance of winning the UK’s lottery is a piddling trifle. (As Terry Pratchett liked to say, million-to-one chances come off about nine times in ten.)

    As someone who hasn’t had kids myself, there’s also the thought that I have consigned not just my potential kids to non-existence but also hundreds, millions, trillions of other potential human beings. Sure, in 850 years from now, and ten thousand years too, there will be humans of one sort or another. But they will all be different humans.

  24. Mitch4 – there seems to be a length trigger for the system putting comments in the spam box… my short comments rarely have issues but the more long-winded ones do (everyone’s a critic, I guess). I wonder if there is a precise word count setting in place? Anyway, another one just bit the dust.

  25. “What fascinates me about ancestry is how incredibly unlikely it is that each one of us exists, when you think about it”

    So solipsism makes more sense than most philosophies. . . .

    I had a poet friend, now deceased (John Rezmerski) who claimed to be a solipsist. I think it was ultimately just a pose, but I’m not positive. But speaking of jokes, after he died I was taking a couple of other mutual friends to his send-off ceremony, and suddenly realized that in our car we had a Wiccan, an atheist, and an agnostic, travelling to a Unitarian church for a ceremony honoring the life of a solipsist.

    You can’t get a whole lot more ecumenical than that. (I was and am the agnostic, if it matters.)

  26. The supposed existence of other solipsists does not refute one’s own solipsism. If all of the other people in the world truly were figments of your imagination, a number of them would be just like you in their beliefs.

  27. Even though it leads directly to a disturbingly serious subject, the reason that this comic does work as humor is precisely because of the carefully chosen “generic” name. Although this obscures the reference, it also reduces the potential negative profile of the eventual ancestor. If the authors had made the implication clearer (by using a well-known family name connected to any prominent war criminal), then there wouldn’t have been anything left to laugh about.

    P.S. @ Narmitaj – The majority of common German names are occupational titles, such as “Schmidt” (“smith”), “Schneider” (tailor), “Fischer” (fisher), or “Weber” (“weaver”). The reason that the “Millers” get listed before the “Smiths” in the German top-10 is that “Müller” has fewer alternate spellings (“Mueller“) than does “Schmidt” (“Schmid“, “Schmitt“, “Schmitz“). If taken collectively, the “Smiths” would be in first place, just like in English.

  28. Mark in Boston – On an episode of “I’ve Got a Secret” there were two old ladies and their secret was that John Tyler was their grandfather. (Show seen in reruns a decade or so ago.)

    His second wife – Long Island’s Julia Gardiner – of the Gardiner’s Island in the Long Island sound Gardiners – was CONSIDERABLY younger than he was – and the poor Yankee girl had to live in Virginia (very nice house though – took the tour decades ago) throughout the (U.S.) Civil War. She is, I presume the grandmother of the two woman on that show and probably the great grandmother of your stepbrother.

  29. I have several male cousins – one of whom has several children, including boys, with his 2 wives (unless there has been a 3rd one, I tend not be invited to family events any longer) so there is a good chance my family name will continue (his brother is gay and a third male cousin died in his 30s only a couple of years after he married so he did not have any children). I have 2 sisters so while one of them has two children – they carry their father’s name and neither seems to be looking to reproduce or marry (she is 33 and he is 30) and my other sister has not had children (nor have I) – so this cousin was the only source for the name/line to continue.

    But Robert’s family – the family name is already gone. His family name was shortened when his grandfather came through Ellis Island – he has no brothers or first cousins – and even if we had children – his name is the shortened version, not the original version. (Whenever someone hears our (his) last name and starts to say “are you related to…” we answer no before they even say who as there is no one else.)

  30. Wow the haircuts on those men! The host (is that Garry Moore?) has a crew cut bordering on flattop, and panelist Bill Cullen is similar. And the idea of a TV sponsor was much more directly involved with the on-air content than later on. Not to mention smoking on air — though I don’t think that was exclusively for shows with cigarette sponsors.

  31. I frequently hear people say something like, Back then everyone smoked.” I did some digging at one point and found some survey data that indicated that at it’s peak less than half the US adult population smoked. Now, I suspect that the split between men and women was different. If I can, I’ll find the surveys again.

  32. I really need to proofread better. I dropped a ” and used “it’s” instead of “its”.

  33. Mark In Boston – thank you, that episode was on in the reruns we watched a few years ago.

    The John Tyler grandson stayed in my mom has we have been to the family plantation – Sherwood Forest – down in Charles City, VA. There were 3, I think, different plantations in same community or at least area, that we went to back then in maybe the 1980s, this one stays in my mind for the name, it being the home of a President, and Tyler family members were still living there and were about while tours were being given. (And that summer it rained EVERY afternoon.)

  34. That should be – The John Tyler grandson stayed in my “mind”…

    My apologies, tomorrow we have to take my 93 mom to a doctor whose office is a royal pain in the “a” and mom moved last Friday to a different residence which is over half an hour further away than her old one and we have to figure/guess at how long it will take us to get there and how long it will take it to get to her and get her into the car – and we have to “take a class and be certfied” to be allowed to take her anywhere by the residence. So “mom” is on my mind.

    (My sister does not make it easy for us.)

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