Does Genealogy Change You???

Finally got around to watching Who Do You Think You Are?, and something Sarah Jessica Parker said, just didn’t ring true to me. She was talking about her ancestor who had been accused of being a witch during the times of the Salem witch trials, and she stated that it changed everything she’d ever felt about her self.

I’ve been doing research on my family tree for 20+ years. Here are some of my notable ancestors:

One ancestress died having an illegal abortion. She died of blood poisoning.

One ancestor was a horse thief.

One was a Baptist Minister.

One was a Prisoner of War and lost part of his arm fighting in the Civil War.

One was AWOL and never went back. He walked home from battle and never looked back. When it was time to apply for his pension, he did so with pride of his service and wasn’t ashamed of the fact that he left in the middle of a battle field, with several rifles, a blanket and enough food to make it several days travel.

One was an indentured servant.

Several owned slaves. One was a slave trader-a very profitable slave trader.

Many were tenant farmers. Too poor to even own the clothes on their backs.

Some left their country of origin because they were being religiously persecuted. Some left because they had been the persecutors and it was no longer popular to persecute.

They were sinners, saints, rich, poor, handymen, untrained, educated, uneducated. My ancestors were arrested, or the ones doing the arresting. I come from everyman. But who my ancestors were does not define who I am. Finding out who a new ancestor or ancestress is, and what they did, or what they lived through, does not change me. I am who I was today, yesterday, and I will always be that person. Who do I think I am? I am me. My ancestors did mold the person I became, sure they did. My religious ancestors, raised religious children who in turn raised me. My ancestors with work ethics passed those down to me as well. My ancestors with a strong sense of right or wrong passed those down to me as well. Some of those traits are genetic, I believe and I think I act the way I do because of them, not because I know who they were, but because I am inbred to believe and behave a certain way. Part of it is environment. Part of it is temperament.

Would it be cool to have an ancestress at Salem during the witch trials. Sure, what genealogist doesn’t want to tie into such a major historical event. But to say that it would change how I perceive myself? I don’t think so. But then I can’t speak for Sarah Jessica Parker. I have always had both roots and wings. She hasn’t. Thankfully now, she has.

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6 thoughts on “Does Genealogy Change You???

  1. I must agree with you Theresa

    I am who I am, because of those who went before me, both good and bad [and there were lots of both] and events that have actually happened to me in my lifetimeie my divorce.

    My ancestors would have been who they were for exactly the same reasons, and future generations will be the same.

    Being told something, whether in a book or film may change my opinion on a particular subject but it can’t change who I am.

  2. Yes, Lin, that’s how I see it. It does make that particular moment in history more personable. I mean I look at the abortion issue differently than most women. Sure I don’t like that it’s legal for any young woman to kill her unborn child without much thought into the process, but my ancestress had 6 children, no access to birth control, no husband (her father ran him off), an abusive father and found herself pregnant again. She had an illegal back door abortion and was dead 72 hours later. I wonder how much different my life would have been had she 1) had access to birth control 2) access to WIC 3) access to Welfare 4) her husband hadn’t left her 5) if she’d had lived or 6) she’d made a different choice instead of the abortion. I am in no way condoning her choices, but her choices did affect how I was raised several generations later. I didn’t find out about her and change my thinking about who I was in the process. I found out about her and changed my thinking about who SHE was. That is what genealogy does to me.

  3. I am very proud of my son, he is now 28 yrs old and i think a very kind, caring, hardworking young man, but i must admit he does have one or two little annoying habits. I look at him sometimes and think “I should have dealt with that differently when he was younger” but I can’t change those things now and I have also forgotten the reasons why I didn’t.

    As a single parent, working was important to me, it meant I paid my way in the world and it taught my son that if you want something you have to work for it and not expect everyone else to. This meant that I spent most of his youth feeling tired and guilty that I wasn’t about as much as I should be.

    By researching my family history I am finding out why [where possible] they did what they did and the social conditions at the time but I cannot judge them, and it cannot change how I feel about things. My husbands 2x gr grandfather was 23 in 1834 when he was transported to Austrailia for life, for stealing a ham worth £24 in todays money, and died before he was 28. He left behind in Englanda wife, a toddler and another one on the way. I am not certain why he stole it, was it to feed his family or was a rogue, but I will probably never find out. Yes I was emotional when I found out, but I cannot blame our judisical system or the Australian government for the way they treated him when he arrived over there, it is in the past, we cannot change the past but we should remember this for the future and make sure it never happens again. Genealogy cannot make you a caring person if you weren’t before nor can it make you angry.

  4. Agreed. If you judge your ancestors by the standards of the society in which you live in, you too harshly judge them. You have to put yourselves into their lifetime, their shoes, their financial situation, their educational situation. Did he do it because he was hungry, for kicks, because he could, we’ll never know, but like you said, it’s not ours to judge. He certainly paid an awfully dear price as did his family for a £24 ham. Something you or I will probably serve for Easter dinner and not give it another thought.

  5. I never thought far back when I was growing up…the roots I was desperate for weren’t ancestral as much as parental. As I’ve grown up and moved on, my curiosity has really been piqued. We picked up and moved 1500 miles from everyone we knew and I often wondered where that came from…then I heard about an ancestor who is supposedly the first white man to see Yellowstone Falls. Hmmm…sounds like he would have picked up 1500 miles, too. Little stories like that make me want to know more…not to change me, but to help me understand where my family has been.

  6. Erin,
    I think we are all like that as children, no matter how good our parents are. I wanted to be adopted growing up. LOL The stories are what sucks us in and everyone has a story. My daughters are watching Who Do You Think You Are right now. What I am getting out of it most is that they are getting excited about history. And seeing slavery not from the point of view of a bored white kid reading about it from a book, but from the point of a view of a man whose family lived through it. I can hear them sniffling and I see them whipping tears. It is touching their hearts. That is how I want to teach my children history. I don’t want to glorify slavery, but I want them to feel what those people went through. I want them to feel what it was like to have been listed as chattel. Because though our skin is white, our ancestors lived though lives equally as difficult. They have been very blessed to have the lives they have had. But it’s because of the people who have gone before them that have worked so hard to give them so much that they have those lives. Hearing their stories is bringing it alive. For us genealogist, we are use to bringing them alive. We’re fascinated to see what we can do to make them dance. Now maybe more people will join our ranks.

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