07 September 2015

A Man Without a Past Is a Man Without a Future

My father, about 1927, Wallins Creek, KY
There is much being said in recent times about "erasing" those things in our past that we don't like and/or find uncomfortable. Recently, a celebrity discovered that he had ties to slavery, and he requested that this be kept out of the TV show for which the research was being done. The best known of the genealogical TV shows, Who Do You Think You Are, has done a great job in honestly portraying the person's past. Some histories are exactly what one would hope for--valiant patriots who fought during the Revolutionary War; connections to European royalty; people just looking for an opportunity to improve their lives. Other histories are sad and poignant, full of abuse and abandonment in multiple generation.

In many cases, the driving force behind the immigration to this country was about new beginnings, the chance to create opportunities for lives to grow beyond established economic and social constraints. It's easy to see in hindsight the mistakes that our ancestors made, and I can only imagine how my descendants will view many of my decisions. While some choices generated tragic consequences, these same choices provided opportunities for others to rise above and do something better.

In most cases, we can only surmise what our ancestor's emotional climate may have been like, as we are only able to make assumptions based on documents that tell one aspect of a story. We can put together a timeline of a life, but we have to rely on historical facts to get a feel for what living at that place and in that time was like. We will probably never know about their personal hopes and dreams, and even family conflicts.

All this being said, our present is a product of our past. The title for this posting was taken from a movie (A Walk in the Clouds) in which the owner of a vast vineyard wanted to know about the background of a man whom his daughter had brought home and presented as her husband. This vineyard represented generations of a family that had worked the land to create this huge enterprise, and their roots were literally in the ground along with the grape vines. The young man, however, had come from an orphanage and knew nothing beyond that, which prompted the father to say what he did.

While much of our future is determined by circumstances beyond our control, how we handle things can be controlled by us. We can choose to be defeated, or we can choose to defeat it. My father, while not Italian, is a great example of what it means to overcome circumstances he didn't want to perpetuate. Born into a violent, poor coal mining town in southeastern Kentucky, he made decisions that would have a lasting impact on his future family, particularly with regards to education.  What is undeniable is that we all have a past that goes back unknown generations full of mistakes and personal victories. We each carry a spark that prompts us to do something with our lives, but unless we act on it, we may never know what choice things await us.

I, for one, am infinitely grateful to those of you who have given countless hours of your lives in the gathering of family records to share with people like me who couldn't have found them without your dedication and commitment. Because of your efforts, I have been able to piece together aspects of lives that would have been completely unknown to me. I have come to love these people who gave all they had, based on their circumstances, so that their descendants could build on their foundation and achieve things that they could not possibly foresee.

Even if your past is unknown to you, it is still influencing your future in ways you may not understand. Everyone comes from somewhere, and that is imprinted in our DNA just waiting to be found. Make the most of your future.


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