My aunt Olga was our Dauphin family historian. As I was finishing high school, she invited me to her home to spend a Saturday. It was a busy time of year just before graduation, but Aunt Olga was very dear to me, so I made time to visit with her, even if it was a bit begrudgingly. On arrival at her front door, I was handed a shoe box filled with odds and ends, much like her house was cluttered with random items. In the box, she proclaimed, were “treasures”. Knowing my family had little in the way of valuables, I was skeptical of their value especially when it looked like a collection of old books, pictures and ragged-edged papers.
The treasures included a photo of my great grandmother with two of my cousins. There was a picture of my parents as teenagers, looking thin and awkward. There was a picture of several great aunts as youth in a crazy pose, sticking each of their heads through the rungs of a ladder. There was a photocopy of a marriage license for great-great grandfather John Rappell and his bride. There was a German hymnal, which didn’t quite make sense, since that side of the family was all French–or so I thought.
It turns out that each item in the shoebox came with a story relayed by Aunt Olga. And it turns out that our French ancestry was only partially accurate. There was also an Irish great-grandmother, assorted German in-laws, and a ship’s stowaway from England who was my grandfather’s great-grandfather (as best I understand it). The Englishman, Henry Stanley, was the newspaper journalist who tracked down David Livingstone in Africa. Dr. Livingstone, a well-known Scottish missionary and explorer, had not been heard from for some time. Apparently it was quite a journalistic coup to have found him, and Henry Stanley enjoyed some notariety for having done so. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that he was honored by having several varieties of freshwater snails named after him. Not many can claim that distinction!
We can learn a lot about ourselves by knowing our family history. It tells us something about who we are and to whom we belong. I know this: I was blessed with a loving (and fun loving) family who has kept the faith and persevered through some very difficult experiences, shared with my by my aunt and my mother. I’ve tried in a small way to do the same for my adult children, and family get-togethers are opportunities to remind each other of the stories that–for good or bad–define us. This article from Lifehackers gives some direction about what our children need to know about family history, when possible.
The Bible is like a family history, too…a collection of stories that tells who I am, to whom I belong, and reminds me where I’m going. I think of it like a shoebox full of treasures.