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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Family history

This is a good time to think about how the past touches us, before I tell you what happened to the people you have just read about. After all, what is this kind of personal history if not a way to connect with something bigger than ourselves? A touchstone for us as we spin through our lives.

As I think about my ancestors, I feel as if I am stretching my hand through a time curtain and touching flesh on the other side. I may never know if these people were kind or generous or loving. But I do know that they were very strong to have lived through the hardships they faced. And I know that they were very determined. I have a sense of who they were.

I am part of that history. I have come to realize that I am not simply the mix of my parents' DNA, but a complex blend of almost infinite possibilities. I realized this as I began to build the history of my family. A history is not a simple cultivated tree with a branch of people who have the same surname. It is a huge leafy maple with branches that intertwine and head off in all directions, held together by a sturdy trunk. From this complexity, you can create an organized "fan chart" of your grandparents. By the time I had found eight generations, I could see 256 gggggg-grandparents. These are my direct line ancestors, the ones who have given me their characteristics. And each one has a story to tell.

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