Kristina Beers: Family history is important, but it isn’t always fact

By Kristina Beers

Special to the Pioneer

I’ve learned through my years as a mom one of the greatest gifts I can give to my children is a family history. It’s important for a child to grow up with a family history and some semblance of their roots. It helps as they grow to have some sort of a foundation and relation to ancestry, especially in terms of history and matching societal facts with family facts. Plus, there aren’t many more entertaining things than listening to a Grandma embellish some childhood escapades.

There weren’t any of my grandparents alive when I came along; I’ve missed a large chunk of experiences and lore. I did, however, have quite a few great uncles and aunts who had no shortage of stories and tales. It is to my detriment that in my teenage hubris I didn’t sit and listen to each one’s life story with full attention, much as my parents tried. I look back now at what richness I had to hear first-hand reports of the Old Country, immigration, and settlement; life and death woven into a rich tapestry of an ordinary life that was everything but.

We have made great strides to raise our boys within a healthy atmosphere of family — where generations span several decades and kids feel normal about helping Grandma with a wheelchair or welcome their baby cousin with joy. To search in the depths of Grandpa’s basement, unearthing treasures of old (one time it was a manual typewriter and the kids had a blast for weeks typing notes for everything), laugh about a crazy uncle who teaches you how to fart in a can, or cry with the rest as another loss touches the heart of who we are.

Even though we have a fairly close family, I always want to know more. I think it’s so fascinating to do research and I got the ancestry bug a good many years ago. Recently, I begged my husband to get a DNA kit with me so we could confirm solid family lore and possibly fill in some holes. We did at a Black Friday sale but then I was so nervous about what I was going to find out, I set it aside for many months.

Eventually the excitement won out (that or the kids’ frequent “Have you done that DNA thing yet?”) and we sent them in. When we got my husband’s results, it was sad in that it confirmed a significant piece of family history was in fact a fable. We all thought for sure he had some Native American heritage and it was a big, fat, zero percentage.

While that was disappointing, the flip side was a fantastic discovery that his family was one of the earlier settlers in the Americas, even before we became an independent nation. I can’t wait to dig into discovering those archives! It sheds some exciting light into who we are as a family and also explains my husband’s steadfast love and care for land itself.

For me, I didn’t expect much, just a confirmation of what I already knew: My grandparents’ immigration and settlement on my dad’s side and my mother’s German roots with the mysterious Scottish of her father. I couldn’t have been more shocked, then, to see on my screen in front of me the zero next to German. I shared this on social media and my niece sent me a message that read: “What are we, then? I feel like my whole life I’ve been living a lie!”

It sure did, but when I did some digging, I realized some pieces fit into this new narrative so much better than before, much like working a puzzle and thinking you had a match until you got farther in and rechecked a piece that fit, but wasn’t quite perfect with a new one that fit exactly. The pleasing joy is I get to find out new things about my family and my roots. It also explains some things about my mannerisms as well.

Roots are so varied: Some are perennials that need to be dug up and sorted once in a while, shared to be planted elsewhere. Some are annuals that flourish and bring joy, but only for a season or generation. Most are the bulbs that lie dormant through the tough times, keeping a steadfast protection to the important parts of life until it’s time to shine and grow.

I hope we are good caretakers of the bulbs as parents, sharing the lore (both old and the newly discovered) as we go about the ordinariness of life with anything but ordinary joy. If you are reading this and you haven’t already done so, it’s time to break out the photo album and call the family for an afternoon of stories. Share with your kids and grandkids something about an ancestor or your own self and give them roots.

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Leave a Reply