Sometimes it happens when you least expect it. You see things from a fresh perspective. You realize how lucky you are, even how you fit into your particular time and place. For a second, everything looks shiny and new. This happened to me this week when I did something I had never done before…
Through the help of a genealogy website, I started exploring my ancestors.
I’ve been able to go back as far as the early 1800’s to Ireland and Canada (I had relatives on Prince Edward Island?). I discovered grainy photos of women wearing long skirts and starched white blouses.
It turns out I had a great-grandmother Margaret and a great-great grandmother Catherine.
As I weeded through census sheets, marriage, and death certificates, I had to keep reminding myself these were real women. They loved and worked. They got out of bed each morning and ate breakfast. They had secrets and desires and in the case of my Irish ancestors, showed pluck coming to this new land.
They were born, lived their lives, and then were gone. Now they’re lines on a family tree.
I knew this would be fascinating. But here’s the thing I didn’t expect…
I became so engrossed in their world from the 1800’s that when I turned away from my computer… I saw it.
I saw my 21st century American life. I saw my world through their eyes.
I saw my computer that gives access to everything within seconds — including my heritage. I keep up with family and friends at the touch of a button. I can watch flash mobs in Beijing or live protests in Paris or the royal family visiting Kenya. I can watch giraffes birthing their young in real time, the latest Press conference at the White House, or the newest “cute puppy” video.
This phone in my hand links me to anyone on the planet — anywhere and anytime.
Planes fly everywhere in the world. And unlike our ancestors, I’ve seen the ground from 30,000 feet. I’ve seen what clouds look like as you’re breaking through on the way to landing.
I realized how much of my life – and our world – I take for granted.
And I know this sounds strange, but for part of the day, I felt the presence of my ancestors. I pictured them going through my house, pointing to this strange device or that.
“What are these?” they’d ask, holding up small, white plastic pods. “Those are K-cups for making coffee.” They’d point to the flat-screen television. “What’s that?” “That’s how we get our news, information, and non-stop entertainment – comedy, drama, scary stuff… what’s your pleasure?”
They’d shake their heads in wonder. I’d feel the women gazing at my strange jeans (pants on a woman?) and cotton top.
Yes, for a while, I envisioned visiting with the spirits of my relatives, gone so many years ago.
But then a strange thought popped into my head. What if all this was reversed?
In a hundred years, my family and I will be distant lines on someone else’s family tree.
Will my great-great-great granddaughter want to know about my life in early 21st century Connecticut? Will she shake her head at how primitive and quaint our existences were? Will she wonder how we survived without a… (I don’t know)…“particle de-mobilizer” or “dream transporter? Maybe she’ll point to my picture in fascination. “Look at those denim jeans and cotton tops.”
And like me with my ancestors, she’ll have to remind herself how we were also real people, not just names on census forms. We loved and worked. We got out of bed each morning and ate breakfast. We had secrets and desires and also showed courage.
We were born, lived our lives, and were gone. I couldn’t help feel a shiver.
As the day went on, that feeling of “fresh eyes” gradually subsided.
Before I knew it, I was back to complaining about the den remote running out of batteries, and the Keurig acting funny again.
Still, it was nice, even for a while, to see life differently, to “visit” (if only in my imagination) with the people who helped make my life possible.
How grateful I am to those women in those grainy photos, who lived so long ago.
Who knows? Maybe ancestors in the far future will gaze at my photo…and feel the same.
Have you looked into your ancestry? It’s interesting on so many levels. Comments are always welcome and if you feel inclined, please share. Thank you!