Who do you think you are?

Do you know who you are? What’s your genealogy? Who are your people? Where did your family originate?

Do you know, or do you think you know?

I write books and teach history, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. In the case of writing, it’s mostly a joy. In the case of teaching history, also a joy.

But knowing history? That’s something entirely different. I read constantly, and yet, I’m still surprised by the inhumanity that existed– and still exists. Conversely, I find great kindness and love in the strangest places, often related in small historical accounts of greatness in the face of what we can only call pure evil. Therein lies the challenge of history, and by extension, the love of it, too.

Sometimes, we think we know our family. It’s a curious mix of truth and myth, not unlike history in the wider sense. Case in point- my handwriting is almost identical to that of my father, although he’s right handed and I’m a lefty. I’m tall like him, laugh like him, and even speak in the same syntax. I have the same skillet-shaped hands, and yet–

I look like my mother, and look exactly like my grandfather.  I’m fortunate in that my family tends to be the saving kind, squirreling away photos from a time when sepia tones, hats, and ladies in pearls were the norm.

My grandfather was a big band leader in the 1930s, but then he was called away to war. Everyone was called away for that horror show, and yet, in the midst of it, his people– my people– managed to survive, mostly, and return home to a very different world.

Maybe my age is showing, but to my students, those pictures are history. To me, it’s where I came from, and who I am. It’s who my son will be, and perhaps his children.

I think that’s why it’s important to save the past, because a simple glimpse tells us that it isn’t the past at all. It’s now, it’s us. It’s who we are and where we’ve been, and something to show our children, drawing a line between the distant horizon and the possibilities ahead of them.

I think it’s worth saving, so I will.

3 thoughts on “Who do you think you are?

  1. I am the descendant of a proud red woman the white man could not kill on a forced march. I am the descendant of an Irishman who survived a long and arduous boat trip. I am the descendant of a Welsh woman and an Englishman who were boat people 150 years ago. I am a mutt. I am an American.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *