I first started researching my family history while in college. I was a social studies major and was fascinated by anything historical, and since I never had the chance to do the research while in grade school (my teachers gave boring homework assignments), I figured I would take the time during the weekends to learn where I came from-what countries my family originated from, what cultures my family was apart of, and (the most interesting to me at the time), which famous person from history I was related to.
Shallow, I admit, but I know I’m not the only one who would think it’d be awesome to be descended from someone cool like Abraham Lincoln (which, unfortunately, I’m not).
As I dug into my family records, I found myself being immersed into the world of stories. Often times we think of stories as tales we read in books or fables we hear while sitting around a campfire. But looking into my family history, I realized stories are so much more. Stories are here, in our past, our present, and our future, taking part in the lives we live. Our lives are our own story, with each passing day a new page that is written.
But what struck me most of all were the stories I read from my own family. I read of my Welsh ancestor who grew up in an orphanage and made his way to America as an indentured servant to a ship captain. I read of my German ancestor who was apparently kidnapped as a teenager and sent to America where he eventually fought in the American Revolution at the Battle of Yorktown and started his own farm. I read of other ancestors who were pioneers and cleared trails for English settlers or who lived on the Appalachian frontier and built churches so the faithful would have a place to worship.
All of these stories were inspiring, hopeful, making me want to read more. I felt proud to be their descendant and even prouder knowing the positive legacies they left behind still lived on hundreds of years later.
And yet there were the other stories-stories I wish I hadn’t read. Stories of ancestor with a temper so bad that he would fly off the handle at the tip of a hat. Another ancestor was so cruel that he ended up imprisoned where he eventually died. Another ancestor was once a faithful preacher who had an affair on his wife and the affair was so scandalous he had to leave town. He eventually left the country, and that’s why he came to America.
As I sat reading the genealogies of my family, I realized that even though the bad stories were few and far between, they were still there. When I told my mom about them and how bothered I was to read them, she told me something I would never forget when she talked about the one ancestor who was a criminal. “I bet he didn’t realize his descendant would be reading his story seven hundred years later and shaking her head in shame.”
I learned a special lesson after that. What we do now lives on in the future as stories for our descendants. Are our stories happy? Are they sad? Are they inspiring? Are they tragic? In short, are the stories we live today going to make future generations proud that we existed, or will they shake their heads in shame? Certainly none of us are perfect and we’re bound to make mistakes along the way, but I want to write a good story, just like I hope others want to as well. I want our stories to have happy endings and be the kinds of stories people want to read again and again.
We often don’t think of our lives as stories, but good or bad, they live on. Some stories last a lifetime, others a few generations, but there are some stories that last for hundreds or even thousands of years, and once our story is written, there is no going back. There’s no editing. There’s no proofreading before sending it to print. The first draft is the final copy and we can never write it again.
But it’s important to remember that even though our story is final, it’s still ongoing. We are the authors. We are the ones in charge of what happens next. Though we can’t go back and change the first chapter, we can decide how the story will continue. We can choose what the next chapter will say.
So now it’s up to you. What will your story be?