When I became a father (and as I continue to grow older), I am increasingly interested in my family's history. The problem is, I do not have much to go by. Aside from some older heirlooms and photo albums, either of my parents kept great records about their roots, nor did they do much to preserve their own life story along the way.
Many of my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and great grandparents kept detailed records about their family history that date back several centuries. Unfortunately when I was very young, all communication with many of these people ended as a result of a very bitter divorce between my parents. As such, I have lost touch with almost everyone, and perhaps even more importantly, lost a lot of the connections I had to my family roots.
So recently I started poking around. With the help of old albums, various genealogy andcestry books, and other family history databases, I have been able to dig up some really cool things about my ancestors that I never knew. For instance, I learned about my late grandmother's passion for women and music, and how he traveled all over the country with his brass band. I discovered some of their childhood stories, such as two sisters who always slept together growing up. When separated, they would each carry a single shoe from their sibling to sleep with and so feel close to. I even found an old beat-up belt and dog tags from someone in my past who served in the military.
However, not everything I left left me feeling all warm and fuzzy about my family's history. Throughout the records and conversations with family members, I learned of abusive relationships between sentences that turned physical. I read about someone from my past who ended up in jail most of his life for committing crimes of larceny. I found out that relatives and cousins became mortal enemies, and I learned about the connections my ancestors had with people what I would not consider "model citizens."
As I was piecing all of this history together, I could not help but feel a sense of disgust. My reactions were all over the map – from pride, to anger, to resentment, to disbelief.
I started to realize that my family's legacy is not all it was made out to be. Who would've known, for example, that the stories my grandma would share with us at the dinner table were only half-truths. And whether it was with malicious intent or not, there are a lot of details she apparently left out, likely for the benefit of saving face in our family history and trying to change the way future history would remember them.
Was everything I had been raised to know about my past a lie? Were there stories I was kept in the dark from? What did my ancestors have to hide? What happened in their lives that would make them so ashamed to tell those stories to their children? Why did they choose to document certain parts of their history while erasing others?
These are questions I will likely never know the answer to. And maybe that is the reason behind it all. Obviously the lack of technology and record keeping probably played a role. But maybe my ancestors did not want their descenders to know much about them. And as I yearn for more about my past, I am increasingly hesitant to continue my research. For who knows what I'll find, how I'll react, and whether or not that information is even real or falsified.
So as I continue building my own personal Footprint in an attempt to document my own life story for my child and even his great grandchildren, I am constantly reminded of how I reacted when I discovered certain things. As such, I build my Footprint with care and caution. Because as the old adage goes, some things in life are better left unsaid. Or in this case … better left uncovered.