Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Thoughts on the Fourth

It's the Fourth of July, which sports a capital "F" for those of us who are American and not just stating obvious facts about the calendar. For Americans, this day comes with a full agenda of flag waving—parades, barbecues, fireworks included.

It's not just about the holiday that I wanted to post my comments today, though it is a singularly pleasant day for those who share this country where I live. It's about something else that I've been thinking. But before I launch into that topic, I have to provide some background.

I've mentioned before that I sometimes feel like I was born wanting to research family history. Long before I had the academic ability to do so, I struggled to find a way to learn how to do this thing of which I hadn't even learned the name: genealogy. I have always been fascinated by connections—how people connect to other people, especially in family lines. Where did we come from? How do today's people connect with those from generations long gone?

From my childhood, I have a memory of a school field trip to visit the birthplace of someone famous. Unlike some of the famous homes I'd seen in other field trips in the region near my school—I'm thinking of the Theodore Roosevelt home for one, or the Vanderbilt mansion, or other such monstrosities—this particular home was quite humble. It belonged to regular folk. Like me.

The main thing that stood out in that school tour was when the guide mentioned what had become of the other family members—the famous person's children. Just the mention got me thinking that this person, living well over one hundred years before me, might have had descendants who were alive right now, and it was a thought almost too glorious to contemplate. I began wondering what became of the families of famous people—who they were, where they lived, what became of them. Did they become famous, too, like their well-known dad? Or did they disappear from the limelight and slip back into anonymity?

That wonderment, of course, has never left me. Though I am certainly not famous, myself, it likely fuels my own quest to discover a connection with my ancestors. I am constantly in awe of the "touch" that can get passed down from one generation to the next.

And so, it will come as no surprise to you that the gem that was recently produced by Ancestry.com in honor of America's Independence Day has touched that very spring of wonderment which, after all these years, still wells up within me. You have no doubt already seen the ad—material this thought-provoking has a way of being passed along without prompting. But if you haven't—or even if you have—I'm adding it below. It's a powerful reminder that some aspects of our history aren't simply acts that were done and buried with the passing of ages, but can still reach out to connect with our own times. Those men who signed that original Declaration of Independence had sons and daughters in the 1770s who, like the rest of us, had sons and daughters, who had sons and daughters...


  1. Interesting! I noticed a number of dark skinned people, perhaps some of the signers had slaves :)

    1. Along with the video itself, Ancestry had published some related material, including one featuring a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, whom I presume could also have been a descendant of Sally Hemings.

      Of course, in the many generations between then and now, the possibility exists that the remarkable diversity displayed in that assembled group would indeed have taken shape, for whatever reason, whether slaves of that era, or intermarriages in later generations. I know that has happened within the membership of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where descendants of those Patriots are a much more diverse group of people than one might have expected from the presumed monolithic European ancestry of the Patriots, themselves.


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