Emmie Mears
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The View From The Sand

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The View From The Sand

I’ve spent approximately fifty bazillion hours lately straining my eyeballs whilst digging through Ancestry.com to hunt down elusive ancestors. So far it’s given me a possible relation (as a cousin muchos times removed) to Robert the Bruce — which if you read my last post on Scotland, you might have an idea how giddy THAT made me.

In spite of the excitement, I’m treading cautiously. As much as I would fancy the idea of Scottish kings running through my veins, Ancestry.com isn’t huge with the enforcement of sources. You can merge your family tree with just about anyone without having to cite any sources — and they don’t have to cite them either. In fact, the website counts other people’s trees as sources. Which, I’ve noted on several occasions has led to parents born after children and other  silly inconsistencies that don’t quite hold up to my standard of academic integrity.

That said, my foray into genealogy has provided me with some highs — the chills of discovering that my ancestors inhabited certain places I’ve always felt particularly drawn to, the slew of deliciously unpronounceable Welsh names, and the dizzying excitement of having to decipher which Williams, Roberts, and Johns come from which generation when my family forewent creativity and kept things a little too simple.

Through all of this time spent pouring through census records and genealogy books written by some very extended family members, I realized just tonight that I’ve been sitting here for a couple weeks like a bird with its head stuck in the sand.

I’ve got heaps of names in front of me. Some branches of my tree extend back almost a thousand years, if the info is correct. So many names and generations that the inside of my head looks something like this:

Desert dunes

Desert dunes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s rather breathtaking at first, no? But after a bit, all the grains sort of run together, and you realize you’re looking down when you ought to be looking up.

The past runs beneath our feet like those sand dunes. Our feet leave marks in it when we pass by, and sometimes if we squint, we can see the marks of others. And yet we only get one turn on this rock, and if we spend the whole time looking at the ground, we’ll miss everything that goes on in the sky.

Looking up and forward is what has made humans different from the other critters that scurry around the face of this dinky little world as we hurtle around the sun. My kitty is lounging on my chest right now, watching me type. She likes to see the cursor move across the page. Her purr is comforting, but she’s not about to correct my grammar, and if she types anything, it would be by pure chance if it came out wordlike.

As valuable as the past is to learn from and incorporate into our dream of the future, at some point we have to make the future into the image we see of it. That’s something that makes human beans unique, no? We desire to shape our lives, and sometimes even the world.

Digging through the past can yield some gems, but sometimes the real wealth is looking forward. I may or may not be the ultimate third cousin (or something) of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and Hero of Scotland — but if I believe in Scotland like he did, like Wallace did, like my acquaintance, historian and author David R. Ross did, then maybe one day I’ll do her some good as well.

Burying your head in the ground will only get sand in your eyes. Eventually we all have to yank our heads out of whatever it is that blinds us and start living. Start doing. Start being. Because at the end of the road, there’s only one person to blame if you see a Dead End sign instead of a Welcome sign.

I can learn from my ancestors who were pioneers and patriots, refugees and freedom fighters. Some were slave owners and fought Native Americans off their land. Others fled persecution themselves and lived quiet lives. There’s wisdom somewhere in there — that there’s good and bad in all of us. It’s up to us to choose each day what we pull out of the drawer.

I can tell you one thing — the view from the sand won’t get you too far, but once you start moving along it can help guide your steps.

When do you need to remind yourself to look up and forward? What motivates you to be who you want to be? 

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Author | Emmie Comments | 4 Date | May 12, 2012

comments

jmmcdowell

I’m glad you’ve recognized the pitfalls of many family trees on Ancestry and are checking sources yourself. One family tree I’ve seen has my 6G grandmother dead when she’s still receiving yearly licenses for an “ordinary” (inn), and another has her buried several days before her death. Calls to mind the “bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python….

Understanding the past can help us look forward. And our lives should be lived in the present with an eye toward preparing for that future. But that genealogical research can be a gold mine for story ideas and backstory….

May 12, 2012 | 10:05 am

stephscottil

My aunt is a genealogy expert going on 20 years now. the amount of time she’s put into verifying original sources is astounding. Salt Lake City is like the mecca of family records in the U.S, she spent a week there with a detailed outline of everything she was looking for. Lucky for me, I can reap the benefits of her research. Ancestry.com is a good start, and the internet can at least more easily connect you with other researchers that can point you in the right direction.

May 12, 2012 | 4:00 pm

Emma

My friend is researching her family tree at the moment and is intrigued by all that she’s learning. I’d like to know more about where I came from, but like you say, it’s important to look up and keep moving. We only get one life.
And my cat always watches the cursor moving too 🙂

May 13, 2012 | 5:47 am

mariathermann

I won’t ever find out about my family roots because my mother’s side of the family came from Magdeburg, which went up in flames in WWII, so all docs burned to a crisp and grandmother and mother only escaped with the clothes on their backs. I see myself as this thing drifting without a beginning but a certain (cancer) end, which is quite comforting in a way. My cat used to sit on my keyboard to stop me from working – so I’d play with her instead.

May 13, 2012 | 10:12 am

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