Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Putting The History In Perspective

Yup... you're right. It's Sunday again, and you know what that means. Even if it is the Fourth of July, I'm sitting down to play my Online Video Game for a little bit.

You'd think that sitting inside uploading photos and tracking my family history is a lousy way to spend the Independence Day weekend... but actually, it's a natural fit. See, the point of today isn't to enjoy a day in the sun (hopefully) and gorge on hot dogs while you wait for the sun to go down and the fireworks to start. The reason we take today off is to allow ourselves time to reflect on our country's history. To look back at where we started, and to reflect on where we've ended up around 235 years later.

Now, I don't know about you, but I was exposed to a lot of American history growing up. Sure, American history was a mandatory class in school (and we still learned about Thomas Jefferson, so I'm better off than kids in Texas), but I was also raised by a history buff who would rattle off information from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Cattle Wars. So, like I say, I was exposed to a lot of American history... but that doesn't mean I necessarily learned a lot of American history.

The big problem with history, in a lot of Americans minds, is context. We don't see how what's come before affects our lives today. Now, of course, we've all heard "those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it..." but lets be honest - a lot of people don't take that old saying to heart. We're Americans, after all... we're all about the future, about progess... about moving forward! The past has passed... right?

That attitude changes when you you have a personal connection with history... and that's just what happens when you look back through your family's history - History with a capital H becomes your history, because part of you was involved with it.

Look, let me give you an example... we've all heard about the Salem Witch Trials, right? Horrible time in American history... mass hysteria, hundreds of people put to death. It's just a story from the past, though... right? Nope. Not really... not if you have an ancestor who was accused of being a witch. Suddenly, that period of history means something to you, because it's not about a date and a place. It's about a person - a person you have a connection to.

Another example from my own history... I always thought, growing up, that my maternal grandfather was a second-or third-generation immigrant. My mother had always talked about his father (my great-grandfather) as an "old-world European..." so I just assumed he'd come over from Germany before my grandfather was born. After doing a little research on, however, it turns out that's not the case... my great grandfather might have had "old world European" ideals and values, but the Goodykoontz family has actually been in the united states since 1750, when Hans Georg Gutekunst arrived in Pennsylvania.

1750. Twenty years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, 234 years ago today. That means my ancestors lived in the 13 Colonies before the revolution. That could mean that my ancestors fought for independence. Suddenly, the story of our country's tumultuous birth takes on a new meaning for me... suddenly, I'm involved - indirectly - with our country coming into being.

Fast-forward 54 years. I know Jacob's son, Daniel, lived in Grayson county Virginia in 1830. Virginia. A slave state. Then, he's dead 13 years later... in Indiana. Indiana - which by that time has abolished slavery, and had become a "buffer state" between pro and anti slave states. Did Indiana's anti-slavery stance have something to do with Daniel moving there? Did the Goodykoontzes play a part in the Civil War?

It's a pretty amazing thing to realize, out of the blue, that you've had ancestors who've played a part in major historical events... that, by extension, you've had a hand in shaping that history. People ask me some times why I spend so much time messing around with this family history stuff... that's part of the answer. My family's history is ALL of our history. It helps me understand what's come before, and how common people played a role in making the events we think of as "history" today.

So, as you're enjoying the fireworks tonight, give it some thought. Think back... what part did your ancestors play in making tonight happen? I think you'll find it's an interesting journey to take...


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