At some point in our lives we are all faced with the difficult task of looking inwards into ourselves and figuring out who we really are. Sometimes it’s in the face of crisis; other times it’s due to a life-altering choice we must face head-on, a bridge we must cross in our lives. But many people do not realize that this bridge did not materialize out of thin air, it was built with hard work and determination from your ancestors. But how can you cross that bridge without pausing to observe the long road paved by your ancestors? I believe we must know where we came from in order to know who we are.
My ancestral awakening started with a trip to the mall. I was walking into a store to get supplies for my own life-altering trip to Iraq, when I noticed a man at the entrance selling family crests. I stopped for a moment to browse them. He asked me if I was interested in buying one, but after telling him my last name was Smith, he grimaced and gave me a large list of countries that claim the last name Smith. Browsing through them only furthered the revelation of my complete ignorance in my own family lineage. Nothing made me feel more lost in the world than not knowing which country to choose. Somehow a tiny, inconspicuous mall booth had shattered my entire sense of being. A door began to open in my mind to a very large piece of my life I had never stopped to think about. It was like an awakening, something I had been missing my entire life. People I didn’t know and would never meet, from a time in history I would never experience, were a part of me. I had to know who.
I immediately went home to call my father and get the answers I was searching for. Interestingly enough, he didn’t know where our last name came from either. What he did know were tales of gold mines handed down through the ages. My grandfather echoed the same stories. It turns out his father was somewhat of a mystery. In the end, all I got was a single name to go off of: Robert William Smith. Unfortunately my lackluster name seems shared in my ancestors. I collected the information I had and started. After years of searching and hitting many dead ends, in the end I found thousands of people who literally fought and died so I could be alive today. In all of their stories, their plight wasn’t something that vaguely related to me, it was all for me.
I’ve always had a determination to do what I believe is right. It’s something I have always held unique to me. But after researching my genealogy, I have discovered I am fraudulently holding it for myself, as it is merely a continuation of my fathers’ driving force. Starting as far back as 1634 when Samuel Smith left England after a disagreement with the Church, to Moses Smith who struck out and started the Mormon religion in Wisconsin, I am a product of a long road determination. In some ways it helps me to know that I share this and other traits with people who I have never met, but owe my life to.
Another product that has resulted from this newfound family is a deep appreciation for the common person. I went into it with stories of goldmines, and came out with a bunch of pretty normal people. But after further investigation, I came to realize they were normal only in the sense that their stories were not made famous. Of the 18 generations of Smiths’ in America, all of them have been somehow involved in almost every facet of American History. While their accounts are not the tales we read about today in the history books, this doesn’t mean they were bland. Every person involved had their own equally important and potentially interesting account. This helps drive home the scope of some of our countries enormous undertakings. From the Revolutionary War to taming the old west, everyday normal people played a huge part in America. For every George Washington there are tens of thousands of Eliakim Smiths, commanding a Unit of rag-tag Americans in an effort to revolt against England, living for a moment in time to turn the tides of History forever.
But if nothing else, I believe in keeping their stories alive so they are forever remembered. One of my greatest personal fears is to be forgotten, and I like to imagine I also got this belief from one, if not all of them. I like to think of them long ago, sitting around and telling stories of their fathers and grandfathers, in the effort that their lives and stories live on in their
kin. Somewhere along the line, these sagas fell on deaf ears and their legacy put on hiatus. By reviving these stories and spreading them, I am in essence providing them a means to live on forever in stories passed on through the generations. I can only hope my future kin shares my belief in appreciating where we came from and carries me with them throughout their lives.
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