8 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Ancestors

Photo of grave marker for Ella Duncan Wallen. She was not my direct ancestor but was married to a relative of a direct ancestor. I simply saw her beautiful face on this grave marker and read her story on find-a-grave. She and her one-year-old baby died one day apart in 1918 and I couldn’t help but wonder what happened. She was 20 years old.
  1. That if you don’t write things down and document them, whether they are stories or songs–whatever–that within two or three generations they will become the stuff of myths and legends with only bits and pieces left.
  2. That photos are precious and priceless and I would dearly love to have more photos of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents because they were so important in my life and I want to preserve their likeness for future generations who might one day wish to know who paved the way for them.
  3. Voice recordings, home movies, and letters are so precious. I would love to hear my mom’s, dad’s, brother’s, grandparents and many others’ voices again.
  4. That if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, we may end up repeating them. I’ve discovered generational trends by doing family research and only when we become conscious of these trends and the hardships they bring upon the next generation can we STOP them and by the same token I’ve learned that some honorable traditions and traits are also handed down from one generation to the next. These are worth discovering and keeping.
  5. That there is no such thing as “the good old days.” No one generation is better than the next. Sure there is evil in the world now, but there was just as much in the world back then. The difference is that now we hear about it sooner. There were natural disasters then, too. Entire communities were wiped away by tornados, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. Many of them are completely unknown to today’s generations. News traveled slower back then and many things never got printed beyond the community where it happened. During the good old days, pregnancy could be fatal, about one third of women died in childbirth, babies born to Rh- mothers didn’t survive, the flu wiped out entire communities, tuberculosis wiped out whole families, people died of diseases that can be cured with simple procedures and basic medical supplies these days. In the good old days my dad’s great uncle lost his mother to rabies and she was chained to a tree like an animal. In the good boats brought human beings up the river and sold them as slaves. In the good old days, Native American children were ripped away from their homes and forced to go to schools that tried to rob them of their identities. In the good old days women were often regarded as property, spouse and child abuse were rampant and often accepted. In the good old days women couldn’t even vote. Rape was commonly unreported. In the good old days women’s research and intelligence were downplayed and discoveries made by women, stories written by women and contributions to society that were made by women were often attributed to men. I believe that right now is the best time in the history of the human race to be a woman in America. Studying the hardships of my grandmother and those before her has taught me that In the good old days, boys as young as 13 or 14 could be sent off to war. In the good old days, in some places, if you had “one drop” of African blood you could loose your rights. If you were Indian, you could be stripped of your land and sent to live in a concentration camp called the reservation. Sure, people endure things now, but I do not wish to go back and live in the good old days. I think TODAY is the place to live and NOW is the only moment. However, it is studying the past that has given me such an appreciation for the present.
  6. That every human life is a story. Every person matters and is important in the grand scheme of life. I’m thinking of my friend who died in her early forties right now. I hope there are tons of pictures of her and that somebody recorded her voice and I hope that her kids write things about her and that her great-great-great grandchildren will one day look back and say, “Her courage paved the way for me.” I believe to say that we don’t care where we came from is to say that their lives didn’t matter. They did matter. Even Jesus, in the Bible, had his lineage traced. Word of mouth isn’t good enough because memories fail but if we write it down, even when our memories are gone, someone may still read it and it may encourage them along their way.
  7. That if you are going to make a will–do it now and update it so that you don’t leave out someone you care about or out-live someone to whom you’ve willed something.
  8. We are spiritual beings living in temporal bodies and every one of us…every one…is only here for a short while. In that time we all need to connect in some way. We need to feel valued and accepted. We need to have hope. We need to have a community, whether it’s a geographical region with a few close families, a clan or a tribe or a church family or group of life-long friends and family…we NEED connection, even those of us who are solitary personalities and require amounts of alone time.