Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I do what I do and why I love it

In each family there is one who is called to find the ancestors. They put flesh on their bones and make them live again to tell the family story, and to know that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not just gathering facts but breathing life into all whom have gone before.

We are the story tellers of the tribe. All tribes have one. We have been called by our genes. Those who have gone before cry out to us: “tell our story.” So we do. And in finding them we somehow find ourselves. How many graves have I stood before and felt at home? I have lost count. How many times have I told my ancestors, “you have a wonderful family; you would be proud of us.”? How many times have I walked up to a grave and felt somehow there was love there for me? I sense “the old ones” give birth or marry or die and I do not feel afraid – they become real because they were real.

Genealogy goes to who I am and why do I do what I do. It goes to seeing a cemetery about to be lost forever to weeds and indifference, and saying “I won’t let this happen.” The bones here are my bones and the flesh is my flesh. It goes to doing something about it. It goes to pride in what our ancestors accomplished – they succeeded and failed; they struggled; they survived. How often have I heard hammer ring on anvil and armor and tackle rattle in the dark – not once have I been afraid.

It goes to respect to what they were, who they were; their hardships; their losses; their never giving in or giving up, their will to go on and build a life for us. It goes to deep pride – they fought to make and keep us what we are – the best of us at least. It goes to a deep understanding that they were doing it all for us -- that we might be born and be who we are; that we might remember them. And so we do – with love and gratitude and pride – recording each fact of their existence because we are them and they are us.

So as a scribe, I tell the story of my family. It is up to the one called in each generation to answer the call. I had no choice. It was merely inevitable. And so I took my place in a long line of family storytellers. That is why I do family history, and that is what compelled me to do it. I know others will be called in turn to stop, reflect and restore flesh to bone; life to those at rest...until is my turn and I gladly take my place with those who have gone before me.