Monday, September 8, 2008

Roots Phenomenon

Where are your roots?

After Alex Haley published the book Roots, he said, "My hope is that Roots will start a ground swell of longing for people everywhere to go digging for their own roots, to discover a heritage to make them proud..."

My husband Dee is a gardener who digs for roots on family trees. He plows through crumbling letters, diaries written in fading pencil, disintegrating scrapbooks, and boxes from under somebody's bed. He interviews grandfathers, uncles and second-cousins searching for specifics to illuminate the life-style and character of a family.

The roots he's excavating now are in Poland. Armed with names, dates and locations we're leaving this week to gather history in the Malopolska region near Cracow, close to Ukraine and Slovakia. I've studied a lot of maps and learned some new geography while preparing for this trip. It's a part of Europe we're totally unfamiliar with, and the language is a complete mystery, but we've got our shovels and we're ready to dig.

We're also doing some research in France. It's funny: this week I drove through the neighborhood where I grew up. Forty years ago I went to the grand opening of a shopping mall that is now being demolished and rebuilt because it's so old. Yet we fully expect to find and photograph a tiny bakery established in France over two hundred years ago. A farmhouse in Poland may have survived the Communists and two world wars--we're hoping, anyway.

Although we've burrowed around other family trees, we haven't done much digging on our own roots. (A paying client takes precedence.) But as I get older I feel a yearning to know my history. Referring to someone famous, a reporter said, "He's from an old family," as if the rest of us just popped up from nowhere in recent generations. We each descend from "an old family" with heroines, rogues, villains and champions, and tales of tragedy and valor that could encourage us.

Dee has noticed that every family has a self-appointed historian with a passion for keeping the records and photographs. Alex Haley discovered oral historians called griots in Africa. He said, "They are men trained from boyhood to memorize, preserve and recite the centuries-old histories of villages, clans, families, and heroes. Some are keepers of family stories so long that they can talk for three days without ever repeating themselves."

Who is your family's griot? Do you know who to call for information about your ancestors? Have you written something for your kids and grandkids? Where are the photos of your grandparents? Which family legend intrigues you?

The last sentence in the Old Testament talks about the Roots phenomenon. In Malachi 4:6 it says, "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..."

Has your heart been turned toward your roots?


Christie said...

We're kind of counting on you and Dee writing the history for the rest of us. Do you mean that's not happening?

SydneyMin said...

Last week I went to a large genealogy conference in downtown Philly. My mom flew out from UT for it, and it was fantastic! As we were people watching (everyone from octogenarians in jazzys to young slick software professionals) my mom commented that we were seeing the fulfillment of the prophecy that the "hearts of the children would turn to their fathers."

How wonderful that you and your husband get to share in that work together - whether for yourselves or your clients! Have a fun, successful trip!

moon said...

My father is the historian in our family, although there was a huge book published of our family name and history, my father has spent many yrs, correcting some mistakes made and filling in some of the blank yrs..but our history starts when our ancestor came to north america in 1653 on a boat from is a voyage that has been well documented, so when I was in France last spring with my husband, I was able to visit the town from which our ancestor came...Town Hall, welcomed us..we met with the cultural attachee, who gave us the gift of 2 books, one that had been published by them of this voyage to Montreal to commemorate the 350th anniversary a few yrs back, that was also celebrated with Montreal Canada in unison with this town of La Fleche in France. The other book was a lovely book full of photography of the town and region as it is today. I was so honoured to be there...I was also, able to hold the registrar that held the written document of baptism in 1633 of my ancestor. It happens to be the first and oldest archive book of registration they have..and his was on the second page! The gentleman was so thrilled that he had found it for us...he then walked with us in the town square, showing us landmarks and explaining with such interest, so many facts from that time and place. The church that my ancestor was baptised in, is still there. I posted pics of my visit there last May...Needless to say, in all my rambling here, I have been very lucky to have been able to go back and see some of my own history...and I am hoping that my father will make it there himself some day soon. He would appreciate it that much more, knowing so much of our stories and history. What a gift it is to know from where we came...and we usually don't figure that out till we get older ourselves lol.

kenju said...

Mr. kenju is our griot. He has amassed quite a large file of info about his family, and learned some rather startling facts in the process. To learn much more, he would have to travel back to Italy and go to small towns. That probably won't happen, but he can dream.

i'm kelly said...

i'm with christie... i figured you were secretly working on it!

Bev said...

I guess you would say that I am the closest thing our family has, I've been working at it off and on for over 25 years. Right now I'm in the process of scanning all of the photos so I can put them on a CD for anyone that asks. Also working on getting everything that I have from the paper records onto a computer program so I can share the information.