A friend of mine who has one of those larger than life personalities once lamented on his wife's interest in genealogy. "They're dead. These are dead people. Why would you want to look up uninteresting facts about when people died or were born or when they moved?", he said with his hands waving. It's hard to argue with logic like that. But I'm going to do it anyway.
One hundred and fifty years ago or so, some people who are now dead were creating the luckiest moments of my life. My grandparents, and their parents were forsaking their family histories because the world was changing and because those families were not including them in their plans for their legacy. Half of them were coming from Europe and half from south of the Mason-Dixon line. They came to Flint, Michigan where my parents and most of my cousins were born.
My great grandparents were born in a time when being born first still meant something. The first male traditionally received more of the family fortune and was treated as more important than his siblings. It was a time when fewer resources meant more competition. As one of my ancestors found out, even if you asked for help from your own brother, you might be met with an illogical response such as, "God helps those who help themselves."
Sometime around my late teens, I had to make my own decisions and decide how I could find my own fortunes and choose my own legacy. My heritage was helping with that, but sometimes it was a barrier. The illogical phrase that I have come up against was; I am "personally responsible" for my fate.
It's true to a point, I had choices about my education, including how hard to study. I could have worked out harder and done better in sports or practiced more and improved by ability to play an instrument or just read more books and paid more attention to the adults who were deciding to send people my age off to fight in some place on the other side of the globe. No matter what I did though, decisions about my fate were being made that were just as much out of my control as the ones made by people before I was ever born.
My dad's grandfather was cut out of any inheritance so he left Germany and eventually came to America through Canada to Flint. My mom's grandfather was born just as slave's were being freed. His father could no longer keep the people he had inherited so he moved west. I know very little about why made his decisions, but I'm guessing the economy of Tennessee was suffering in the post Civil War era. For my mom's dad, there was a falling out with his brother, and he packed up his young family and drove from Arkansas to Flint to get work.
Both of those grandfathers of mine took advantage of the growing economy of the auto industry. The next generation took advantage of unions and the low cost of higher education in the war years and after. They were not rich. The rich were being taxed to build the infrastructure that made America the most powerful country in the world and kept the USSR in check including beating them in the so-called "space race". All of that had positive and negative consequences.
I only know of those good and bad effects because of the advantages they gave me. To continue to keep up with the evil in the world, we need higher education and a healthy defense system. You may not like the Liberal professors that are created by that, or the crimes we commit in foreign countries, but I know I would not be able to understand all of it without the advantages that they created and keep creating. It's not a perfect world.
If I could overcome the culture created by 10,000 years of human history, and live in a world that matches my vision of loving, caring, good neighbors, who work hard, I would do it. I may not know what to do, but I know tearing down everything from the past is not the place to start. Breaking a tradition, questioning an authority, opening a dialogue, those are things that my great grandparents did and I honor them by thinking for myself.
I know that they knew that they could not know what I know. They were muddling through life just like the rest of us. Powerful forces altered their futures. Random events that may have seemed small changed their future. They kept on. I wouldn't be here if they didn't.
Bruce Springsteen put it more poetically. As Bruce was about to become a father, his own father visited him and made a sort of apology for the father that he had been. It was more than that. It was a warning of the mistakes he had made. Telling his son not to make them with his own children. In Bruce's words, "To release them of the chains of our sins, my father's and mine and our father's before. That they may be free to make their own choices and to live their own lives. We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children's lives. We either lay our mistakes, our burdens upon them and we haunt them. Or we assist them laying those old burdens down and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behavior. And as ancestors we walk alongside of them, and we assist them in finding their own way and some transcendence."