The light of the past

Grady sees his Dad through the glass of his grandparents' window, March 2014.

Grady sees his Dad through the glass of his great-grandparents’ window, March 2014.

“…everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us…on the inside, looking out.”Jonathan Safran Foer

I think it’s interesting that the rapidly accelerating understanding of genetics is co-occurring with an increase in hobbies related to ancestry.  Scrapbooking, photography, genealogy, cultural studies, family reunions and organized efforts to record and document oral family histories are all around us.

It’s partly due to increased leisure time, of course, along with the advances in technology that make research and discovery more feasible than ever before. But I think it goes beyond all that.  Most all of us, whether or not we realize it, are deeply connected to our family history.

We may know relatively little of our ancestors beyond the past few generations.  But it’s a safe bet that almost everyone’s family tree features a dazzlingly diverse cast of characters, if only because of the way the numbers multiply so rapidly with each backward generation.  Two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and so on, with countless aunts, uncles, and cousins into the mix.

All (or almost all) of us, if we look far enough into our family trees, come from a mixture of many different races, religions, nationalities, cultures, personality types, ability levels, occupations and ambitions.  Some lived long, though difficult, lives (mere survival in past generations was challenging, even for the privileged, compared to today). Others never enjoyed good health and died at ages that seem tragically young to us.

Some were holy, some profane; most were somewhere in between.  Some owned businesses, some worked in fields, forests or factories.  Some wore suits or dresses, some wore chains.  Some were creative and artistic, some diligent and methodical, some logical and analytical, and some a potent mixture of all of these things.

I don’t think the past determines who we are.  I do think, though, that it casts a long shadow; that the influence of our ancestors lives on, in minute ways we cannot fully understand, and lasts for generations. Do you know much about your ancestors?  I’d love to hear about them!

For me, it’s fun to wonder about past generations of whom we know only a few intriguing details, and even more fun to imagine those that we will never know about.  Though we are seldom aware of it, each of us figuratively sees the world today in a light that, like rays of the sun, came from long ago and far away.

One year ago today:

It still matters

36 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia.
    My most “famous” (infamous) relatives were the Tyra brothers, who were the mercenaries that killed Good King Wenceslas, I think having been sent by his brother (the not-so-good Wenceslas?).
    I was no where near them at the time, I swear!
    🙂 It is a pity, because apparently the good King was very generous and cared for the poor.
    I don’t think I’m a direct decendant, however. Unlike Cain, to whom we’re presumably all related. 🙂

    • Wow, that really IS fascinating! In recent years, as I’ve become familiar with all the verses of the song, “Good King Wenceslas” has become a favorite Christmas carol for me. I know very little about him, so I was not aware that he was murdered. Cain I do know about 😀 but the good part about that story is, it means we are all related to each other too!

  2. Hey! I’m back in! I set up a WordPress account yesterday morning and the password tripped me up so I couldn’t comment. Now I’ll wait to see if you got the last comment. And I still can not figure out how to send you photos of my home as a vacation for your other readers. This is Susan, by the way, in case it comes up under my blog; I have no idea how this works ….

    • Hi Susan, which comment were you wondering about? Has it appeared yet? I’d love to see the photos of your home. If you want, you can send them as an email attachment to defeatdespair@verizon.net and I can upload them to WordPress. I went to your blog but there was nothing published there that I could find.

      • Hi Julia, yes, my previous comment posted, just above. There was a hiccup about the password, I think because I was still signed in when I tried to create the blog account. I haven’t posted anything yet – it took two hours just to get that far! As you said in an earlier post: step by step.

        • Good, Susan, I’m glad it came through. I found that the learning curve with WordPress was a bit harder than with blogger, but I like it better. I think the only way to learn it well is to practice with it. Good luck, and let me know when your blog is up and running!

  3. Amy

    I just came back from a family reunion and I find it interesting that there are some people who are remembered fondly and there are others about whom tales are told and retold that marks them for life as the outcast of the group. I wonder where I will fall. 🙂 Love this photo and this thought. Take care. I love you. A

    • I am sure you will be remembered as the angel you are 😀 – only a slight exaggeration I’m sure! Wow, I don’t remember hearing such stories at a family reunion, possibly because I’ve only ever been to ONE. I do know some very interesting family stories, though – one of which was recently featured on PBS during their pledge break! The rest of us in the family are considerably more anonymous, but I think ALL people everywhere have fascinating stories. Hope you are enjoying the summer now that you are back. Love you too!

  4. Ann

    Julia, Genealogy has been a hobby of mine for several years. It’s fascinating to find information about ancestors-not just dates but stories about them- plus putting them in the context of American or world history. For example, many of my Georgia ancestors came to Georgia after the American Revolution because they were given land grants for having fought in the Revolution. I have a journal kept by my great grandmother as a teenager in Madison Georgia in the 1850s. She has geometry and algebra equations that she worked penciled in it. Quite something for a female in the 1850s! To me, my research is a way to honor them and their struggles.

    Ann

    • Ann, I too am impressed that a young woman was doing geometry and algebra so long ago, and even more impressed that the journal has survived for you to enjoy. In Georgia history which we learned in elementary school and junior high, all I remember is about James Oglethorpe and the penal colony. I didn’t realize there were land grants there for soldiers, though I knew the rest of the population had to come from somewhere. Most of our family and a great many residents of the deep south are of Scots Irish ancestry; are you too? I agree that taking the time to learn about our family history is a great way to honor and remember all that they achieved.

  5. Julia, as your brother Eric pointed out to me several years back would happen, the older I get the more sentimental I become about family and those who have gone on before us. It occurred to me around that time that we are indeed, at this particular point in history, an exceptional link in our ancestral tree. We, presently living in this 21st century, are privileged to have had the opportunity to intimately know our grandmother who came into this world in the 19th century! Now Grady (and possibly his children into the 22nd century), through you, will have that “first-hand” familiarity of ancestors from three centuries past. What an awesome gift you possess for future generations of the Hedden lineage!
    Cousin Judy

    • Judy, what a lovely thought. I hadn’t realized that. I appreciate your kind words about my attempts at writing. It is helpful for me to record some of these things while I still can, if only for myself. Our family histories are so rich and we can document them relatively easily now, except for having to find the time to do it! I am thinking of Jerry and Sam and praying for that situation. BTW – I love your new FB profile photo. Is it my imagination or do you look a bit like your Grandmother Wilson in that photo? I have only vague memories of her, but something in your expression was familiar.

      • Thanks for the prayers on behalf of Jerry and Sam — I know they appreciate it. Appreciate your comment about the FB photo as well. What a great compliment that you see my sweet Granny Wilson’s expression. I’ve always been told that I look like the Wilson (and/or Richardson) side of the family, and there could be no greater honor than to reflect Granny’s spirit. Feisty though she was sometimes, her heart was pure gold!

        • I heard only good about her and your grandfather both. I wish I could remember them better. Peggy told me that Lizzie was the glue that held the family together! Apparently she was very very good to PaPa and I love her for that.

  6. The only knowlege I have of family genealegy, is that which came from stories passed down by grandparents and parents; experiences reminisced, while we sat around the kitchen table.

    Our understanding of past strife and victory, sorrows and joys, were revealed at these gatherings. And with it a wisdom that was learned, from those who have come before us, was passed on those those they hoped a better life for.

    We were so fortunate to have generations of our family living in the same or very near neighboring towns.

    It was not uncommon to enjoy family backyard bar-b-ques at each others’ home on alternating weekends; at which much of the above would be revealed.
    -Alan

    • Alan, you certainly were fortunate to have frequent visits with your extended family. That’s something I or our sons have never enjoyed, because we were always living in different states, though we do still feel a closeness. Family history is much broader and deeper when it is shared in little bits over a long span of time. I loved the story you told about your one summer vacation and I hope that some others in your family will have the chance to read about it for years to come.

      • Thanks Julia,
        And since my parents have passed away, my brothers and I often retell the farm vacation, to my nieces and nephews, as well as my brothers’ children and grand-children. I’m sure it will continue to be told.
        -Alan

        • I’m glad! I think there are some things that would be totally lost to younger generations if we did not tell these stories. It’s hard for our children and their children to imagine how quickly things have changed. They cannot imagine a world without cell phones, DVRs, iPods, computer, microwaves or even telephone answering machines! And our parents said the same things about us and television and regular telephones. Ah, the blessings of a long life!

  7. I love, love, love that photo, Julia. Sweetness personified.

    • Thank you Alys! Of course this silly Grandmother TOTALLY agrees with you!

  8. Carlyle

    The relatively low cost of genetic tracing through DNA has revealed to many, me included, just how far-flung our roots can go. It has occurred to me that it is a mistake to refer to American Indians as “Native Americans”. There are no native Americans. Everyone came from somewhere else.

    • I guess the term “native” means “whoever got there first.” I note that some sources use the technically-more-correct term “pre-Columbian inhabitants” but I guess “Native Americans” has a better ring to it. When we lived in California (whence some of your more recent ancestors came) I used to hear people joke that there was no such thing as a native of Los Angeles, or sometimes they would say California, and it’s true that I met very few people could claim that both they and their parents grew up there. I guess it’s becoming that way everywhere as society is so mobile now. Not only did everybody come from somewhere else, but if you go back far enough, we came from LOTS of different somewhere elses!

  9. Sheila

    Julia, you captured more than a moment here! I often say “Children are a reflection of their parents.” and here I see excitement looking at love and then some! I thought of the recent photo of Jeff with Drew in Key West, and saw a similar loving moment. Keep capturing these moments and writing your beautiful accounts of time. This is incredible to me, a special time! ☺️

    • Sheila, thank you so much! Your encouraging words mean a lot to us. We appreciate your being on this journey with us and sharing our lives. BTW I loved the photo of Jack! What a beautiful boy he is.

      • Sheila

        Julia, thank you for your kind words…. all of them! I admire your family so much and I’m so proud to be your friend. Love, Sheila

        • Sheila, I am proud to be your friend too! Any friend of Walter and Jack is a friend of mine. 😀

  10. Next month I am leading a writing workshop for a local historical society. They are beginning a group for people interesting in writing family stories and I’m going to share some of mine as well as bless them as they begin. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.

    • Tony, that is great news! I’m sure you will help a lot of people to get going on something worthwhile that will be great for their families. You have a lot of good stories to tell and you know how to tell them, so I know you will be a great teacher. Have fun and I hope I will be able to read a blog about it sometime. A writer I know of wears a t-shirt that says “careful or you’ll end up in my novel” – you can do the same thing but substitute the word blog! 😀 Or the words “next book!”

  11. Ann

    To all the commenters above, who spoke fondly of hearing or telling family stories: please WRITE the stories down for future generations, ask questions NOW of older relatives. The memories will fade away if not captured in writing and in the ‘wink of an eye’ there will be no one left to ask questions of!

    • Thank you Ann, I agree! I am trying to do this little by little, but there are SO many stories to capture. I wish I had recorded “interviews” with my grandparents while they were still alive. I do have their letters, which are a treasure. BTW Ann I got your email the other day and INSTANTLY started writing you a long reply, then got interrupted – but it’s saved in draft form and eventually I will finish it, I hope! Thanks for thinking of me.

  12. Such a perfect photo to compliment this quote. I hadn’t ever heard that but agree entirely. I feel a true connected to my great grandparents and the culture they brought with them in the early 1900’s. We enjoy celebrating that heritage throughout the year in different ways. They were very hardworking and I think adventurous. They left family and all they owned and knew behind to move to Canada from Austria. I never even got to know my Baba (daddy’s mom) so I’m always astounded when so many generations get to meet. My hubbies mom is a great great grandma and is still with us. Her great grand-daughter had a son last year. Young mom’s run in that family.
    My Aunty Kathleen has helped me fill in some blanks and a cousin also has done a lot of work investigating our past. I love shows about it, like “Who do you think you are?”. They are able to go so far back by traveling to foreign destinations and investigating church records and town archives. It’s really amazing. It’s good to write down stories and dates while we can still visit with loved ones. Once departed, these things are sometimes lost to time. xo

    • I haven’t heard of that show but it sounds wonderful. I knew you had ancestors from Ukraine but didn’t know about the Austrian family. WOW, Austria to Canada is a long journey for sure. At least they were accustomed to the snow and they had some beautiful mountains to keep them from missing the Alps so much. Your husband is lucky to have five generations still present in his family. That’s rare, and even though people are living longer now, it may always be rare since most of us are having children later than used to be common. Perhaps one day if enough people keep doing the genealogy research, we’ll eventually have a giant database and find out how we are all related to each other. In the meantime I love it that so many family stories are being recorded; it give a whole new dimension to history. The history textbooks just describe the tip of the iceberg, and at best a selective version of it.

  13. raynard

    Julia, my late grandmother was born in 1900, had my mom at 23. Moved up to NYC from N.C in 1944. She passed away in 1985. Just before that she shared her story. Married twice also owned a few businesses. She as I remember growing up was a live in maid to a nice Jewish family who would move to Florida. A few years ago someone in our family reconnected to a old childhood neighbor down in Florida who is now a doctor. She just happen to be the doctor to a family member of the family my grandmother was a maid for..My uncle I believe is 80 now and mind is very sharp. He can take you back with his oral history of how it was back in the 30, 40, 50, and 60’s.He even remembers( when I joke with him) his 1966 Champane colored Thunderbird.. be blessed

    • Small world, isn’t it? I love it when these connections are discovered. I’ve always thought that there are more such connections out there than any of us realizes – the old “six degrees of separation” theory. I hope you are able to video or tape some of your conversations with your uncle. I love talking with these folks who know what a record player is and actually remember when Duke Ellington took the A train! We need to get these stories recorded. Maybe you can try interviewing your Uncle through the Story Corps site. I want to do that myself sometime with my older relatives.

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