Since turning 30, I’ve been feeling a bit more mature. Beers made by monks rather than Steel Reserve, a little less Sportscenter, a little more PBS. Tryin to cut down on the hot pockets, etc.
The increased PBS has led to a gem called Finding Your Roots – a genealogical show hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It’s a delightful program that traces peoples’ descendants back as far as records allow, often into the 1600s. The program is poignant for several reasons; not the least of which is the way it highlights how little we Americans know about our origins and forebears.
A couple years ago I was reading a book about a kid from Somalia, who recalled a childhood where long dead ancestors were afforded the utmost respect and reverence. She said she could recite her ancestors going back 600 years! Do most of us even know the names of our great-great grandparents?
Finding Your Roots is a great wake-up call to our rootless, insular, self-obsessed, hyper-individualistic society that prefers looking to the future rather than the past. We are a people who look inward and forward, rather than outward and behind us. We miss out on a lot because of this.
By connecting with ancestors in some meaningful way – or at least finding out who they were, where they came from and what they did – we add a richness to our story and a tangible context of how we came to be. Especially if you were born in this tremendous genetic succotash of a nation, your story is probably way more complex and diverse (and possibly sordid) than you might imagine. Except for Rick Warren who in a recent episode was identified as one of the whitest men in existence.
So I encourage you to make a family tree, or at least find out more about your lineage. Who knows, you might have a hero or two in your line? You might come from a proud line of teachers, carpenters or soldiers. What you find may inspire you to learn a new trade, or help you reconnect with relatives you might not have even known about.
Of course it’s more likely you’ll find out about illicit affairs, cattle rustling, involvement with slavery, scofflaws, carpetbaggery, or some other long-forgotten family shame, but hey let’s learn from those mistakes.
It’s also probable that you’ll find out you are somehow related to your spouse — but aren’t we just all one big family anyway? Seriously better check just in case though.
Go find your roots!