How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Ancestry

What is it about our ancestors that we find endlessly fascinating? Though not everyone cares about their long-dead relatives whom they’ve never met, many of us do … we take as much pride in the fact that our great-great-great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, that a lost-track-of-greats-grandmother sailed on the Mayflower, that our infinity-greats-ancestors were royalty, as they or their immediate children did. Although it may not have any practical bearing on our lives, I think it’s healthy to love our ancestors (within reason) and feel that they are our connection to the past, whether it’s world-changing history or life-sustaining homemaking. Learning their stories is the only way we can honor and respect them now that they are gone from this earth.

one of my great-grandmothers (center) and two of her sisters

That’s why I enjoyed Rebekah Jones’s novel Grandmother’s Letters so much – she illustrated the direct and helpful effect even the long-ago past can have on our lives today. I hypothesize that our far-away ancestors’ choices are largely responsible – on the human side of things – for where we end up in our lives, be it where we live or what our interests are. I like thinking about the possibilities, such as, what if my great-great-grandparents hadn’t chosen to immigrate? and then praising God for the way things turned out.

I also like studying my ancestors because I get to place them in the events of history, and in a way it makes me feel that I was there. We have a right to the glories of the past through the participation of our ancestors.

Beyond that, though, all of us can find inspiration from our ancestors’ lives for our stories! My work-in-progress The Alice Quest explores ancestry and how we interact with it, and I draw from my own experiences and love of ancestral history as I delve into Amy's, my MC.

So what fascinates me from my family history? First of all, where my ancestors came from.

My dad’s dad’s family has been in America for a good long while. Before ending up in Michigan, where my dad, grandparents, great-grandparents, and most of my great-great-grandparents were born, they lived in New York and Massachusetts, and their ancestors came from southern England in the 1600s. I find it exciting that they pioneered America and saw or even fought in the Revolutionary War. My dad’s mom’s family emigrated from Sweden in the 1880s and settled in Michigan; my great-grandmother spoke only Swedish until she went to school.

My mom’s mom’s family also came over in the 1880s, only they emigrated from Holland and put down roots in Chicago. My mom’s dad’s family came from Germany around the same time.

my great-great-grandmother who came from Holland (her daughters are in the previous photograph)

Because of my ancestry I feel a connection to and special fascination for the cultures of England, Sweden, Holland, and Germany – as opposed to, say, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Native Americans. Is that exclusively conscious, i.e., I take more interest in them because I know it’s in my blood? Or is there something in my genetics? I don’t know if I can ever know for sure.

In part two of this post (which will emerge next Friday if I can manage it) I’ll tell you a few things about my family that inspire The Alice Quest. On Tuesday, however I’ll be doing a special Jane Austen post in honor of her birthday, December 16th.

What is your family’s ancestry?

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