Why Family History: And Their Eyes Were My Eyes

“I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come, I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.

“And their eyes were my eyes.

“As I felt, so they had felt and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning and no end, and the hand of his father grasped my father’s hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all, up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, made in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father.

“I was of them, they were of me, and in me, and I in all of them.” (Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley, New York: The Macmillan Co, 1962, 297).

Some people are born family-minded. They’re drawn to family history research like moth to flame.

Some people don’t get the bug until they have drunk deep at the well. Then they, too, know the thirst, catch the fire.

Some people would rather DIE—than learn about dead people.

Why do I bother with family history?

“I was of them, they were of me, and in me, and I in all of them”—Richard Llewellyn captures exactly how I feel. In his story, How Green Was My Valley, the character Huw undergoes rounds of disillusionment and disappointment, as the beautiful valley he knew as a child is slowly devoured by the encroaching coal mine. Likewise, the journey from idyllic childhood to aware adulthood threatens to despoil the optimism Huw felt as a child. This moment of epiphany grounds him again; it gives him new purpose and meaning to realize he is one with and part of a great chain of family.

That is exactly what family history research does for me. To draw from the shadows family members who have been lost and forgotten, to give them breath and make them live again by telling their stories, this makes me larger, better, kinder, and richer. In this world that can be so shallow and self-absorbed, knowing my ancestors widens my vision and sweetens my empathy.

Do you feel isolated and alone? Do you fear the unknown tomorrow?

Learn about your forebears. Join hands and raise them high to “show the link.” Let their eyes be your eyes, their sorrows your sorrows, their joys your joys.

It is an unforgettable, quickening encounter that will change you forever.

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