Tomorrow is a mystery and yesterday is history, but yesterday can also be a gift.
One of the ironies in life I find highly amusing is how we are told to not dwell in the past, but in all honesty the past is a very important time period on many levels when it comes to the present. I personally do not want to define myself by mistakes I made as a teenager. On the other hand, I want to remember the times my mothers wiped my tears and the night games I played with my siblings in the back yard on a summer evening.
Where then do we draw the line for forgetting and remembering what happened way back when?
With all the grey areas, this is not an easy topic to put into simple categories. For one, your own past is very personal to you, but don’t treat it like it is the end of your ability to progress because you made mistakes. There are times to move one. However, one area I want to address in digging up the past is through family history.
A sad truth for the young generations is they do not delve enough into the riches of the past, especially in their own families. Reasons will vary: I don’t have the time, I don’t know where to begin, my ancestors come from a country with few records, or I simply do not have an interest in research. These attitudes are not only barriers to doing genealogy but for life situations in general. For instance, I want to make time for my friends and family, I want to go forward with challenging tasks, etc. I think of the deceased in this manner. I want to make time for them and work to learn about their lives and personalities.
I came into genealogy as a beginner like most others. I had much to learn and knew very little about how to help others. But, by taking the time to learn and to exercise patience with the areas that frustrated me, I grew much more as an individual as I came to learn about my ancestors.
For three years, I have uncovered and identified photographs, dug up stories in local newspapers, found personal histories, reached out to distant relatives for resources, and overall, I have worked to piece together stories that were not written down. What did it take? Simple prospecting. You will rarely strike nuggets in digging and panning, but you will find flecks of gold that come together in a rich whole.
The lives of these people, good or not so good, deserve to be told. As the descendant in a long line of immigrants/emigrants traveling for a better life in a new place, hard-working farmers taking care of their land, entertainers bringing laughter to the small towns, mail carriers delivering the daily correspondence, musicians having a great time with their work buddies playing on a street corner, the man peddling soap to feed his family, the mother telling stories to her children at night, the railroad man coming home only a few times a season to visit his family…I find the desire to go on in my own struggles to make a better life for my loved ones. What is the greatest gift I receive from coming to know these people? Because of them, I am who I am. There are times you separate yourself from mistakes they made, but I want to relate to the good traits. I have my great grandfather’s love of books and reading, I have my great-grandmother’s love of nurturing others, I have my great-great uncle’s love of people and entertaining.
I am the living proof that these people existed and had lives of their own. Like my first cousin or mother, they are relatives and part of my life, even if unseen. The only difference? They lived at a different time. Passing from this life is not grounds for remaining forgotten. Everybody has a story. Those stories contribute to you as an individual. Where do you begin? Talk to those who are still alive. They knew relatives you didn’t. Don’t pry if they do not want to talk about certain family members, but more often than not, a grandfather has a story or two that only he can tell. If it goes unwritten, there is a piece of someone’s life forgotten and with it a piece of history relating to you.
So instead of the original quip, I want to say: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but yesterday and today are a gift. That is why they are called the “present.”
Do not put yourself in a rut because of the past, but rather build yourself up and share it as a gift with your loved ones.