Genealogy shows like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are and Genealogy Roadshow, bring to life how connected we are to our ancestors. In each episode people are deeply touched and moved when they learn that a great-great-great-grand-parent who they never knew, lived through a major historical event or disturbing personal tragedy. Whether the history tells of a celebrated past, or a painful circumstance, we are connected to our past. We care deeply about our forebears lives. We often can detect how what happened to them shaped who we are today. Stories and legends get passed down for generations, some true, some only partially true. Today, we have the opportunity to tell the story of our ancestors and to add our story to the mix.
Sometimes values are handed down that are not connected to a story anyone remembers, and yet, everyone in the family lives according to that lore. In a particularly moving Genealogy Roadshow episode, a young woman learned that her grandfather was part of the Tuskegee Experiment. After understanding her grandfather’s tragic story, it made sense that she was brought up believing that she should never trust the government.
In my family after three generations of fathers who left women and children behind, a legacy of strong, independent women who learned to fend for themselves and their children was created. “Always have your own money,” my mother taught. “Just in case.” We all knew the legacy of my grandmother and my mother, but few knew the story of our great-grandmother who also had to support herself and her children at the turn of the 20th century by doing laundry for college students. Her experience most likely influenced her daughter to get divorced in 1930 and her grand-daughter to leave behind her husband in 1972. Unlike most of their peers, their family history provided the permission they needed to get out of bad marriages.
What are the values your family lives by? Some values and traditions are so deeply rooted we may not be aware that they spring from the experience of an ancestor 100 years ago. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what legacy, values and traditions am I creating? What lessons have you learned, or been forced to learn, that you hope your future forebears will benefit from?