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Finding Your Routes

Benjamin Graham's handrawn route for 1969 trip

Last night I had a Rumspringa or a Fat Tuesday, if you will. There has been a definite need for indulgence to get things out of my system in order for me to push to the next level of commitment of many aspects of my life. Lately, I have a lot on my mind and need a reboot. There a just a lot of things I want As a result, I feel a bit of a loss for spare words, which is not ideal when one wants to consistently post every week. Normally I would have been working on the post for some time but here we are... Yes, there are loads of things I could talk about and discuss and share about this project. Yet and still, to avoid any stress of attempting to create a Pulitzer Prize winning post, I am going to pull off some of the pressure and not overthink this. No frills, no pics.

Finding Your Roots, image courtesy of PBS

Tuesday night, I was watching the PBS show Finding Your Roots hosted by Harvard Scholar, Henry “Skip” Louis Gates, Jr. Now that Downton Abbey has concluded (insert silent cry from loss of Downtown Abbey), this is the only show I schedule time to watch. Currently in its 3rd season, I am disappointingly a little late to this show. I have been fascinated with the work of Gates for some time. For those who may not be familiar with his academic reputation may remember when President Obama invited him and a police officer to share a beer at the White House after a controversial arrest was made of Gates. As the host of Finding Your Roots, Gates (along with a serious team of researchers) takes time to diligently research, reveal and discuss the historical relevance of the genealogy of 2-3 noteworthy guests. Each episode has a core theme that either unifies the guests based on the accomplishments of their lives or that of their ancestors.

After watching an episode of Finding Your Roots, it would be impossible to ever look at your life and presence on Earth in a vacuum again. We all know the fundamentals of how we got here; we were conceived by our parents, a child inherits half their DNA from each parent, while each parent passes half their DNA to each child. This is a pure exact science. For that reason, the fact that I look exactly like my father and sound just like my mother is not a stretch, nor is the fact that my sister looks my mom but has my father’s assertiveness. The visual concept of a family tree, where the single root below the multiple branches (me for example), is the result of many fractured pairs would be identical to the scientific breakdown of all 23 pairs of chromosomes constantly being cut in half and shared with another halved set in the creation of a new person on the tree. In a nutshell, there are a lot of other people that make us who we are.

With that said, let’s think outside of the abbreviated generational box that we may have put ourselves in. Most of us are familiar with the most immediate members of our families: parents, grandparents and maybe great grandparents. But who else is out there beyond those close familial branches? What has been the most astounding to me while watching this series is how often parallels can be found in a family beyond a 2nd or 3rd generation. I am not even talking about the physical traits; I am talking about the internal workings that make us who we are and how we see our role in life, the things that make us visionaries, or political or patriotic citizens, or writers or survivors. Traits like creativity and being a wondering wanderer are things that I can immediately link to my parents and grandparents because I know who they are and what they have done, but where did they get it from?

In posts past, I have discussed this generational exposure/interest concept, as it relates to Everyone But Two, my grandparent’s lives and their decision and desire to travel by trailer. The Grahams were travelers and therefore, they directly influenced my parents to purchase a trailer and inspired their desire to travel. That influence or trait has then been passed down to my sister and myself. Due to the circumstances, I can’t say for sure if my parent’s interest in traveling is solely an influence of exposure or something that was inherent in their personality, just like I can’t say for sure about my sister and myself. Either way, a generation back, the known point of origin, is the Grahams. From my limited knowledge of the Graham’s parents, neither my grandmother or grandfather are aware of this adventurous spirit that they collectively supported and acted upon, being a trait of that was passed down to them. Where did this idea of wanting to travel and explore come from? I am convinced after watching enough episodes of Finding Your Roots that the wanderlust that the Grahams have was not a trait that they singularly possessed, it is very possible it could be traced to generations before them. Ideas and attitudes about travel that the Grahams have had are not necessarily what I would call common. I recall one of the many conversations that I have recently had with the Grahams where they discussed deciding that one of their travel goals was to drive every U.S. Route. Promise you won’t make fun if you already knew, but it was from this conversation that I learned that the two-digit U.S. Route system was a grid in which the even numbers run east to west and the odd numbers run north to south. If you are driving on U.S. Route 95, you are traveling north to south (or south to north), or if you are driving on the U.S. Route 64, you are most definitely traveling from east to west (or west to east).

This curiosity to find out more is indeed the evil plan of one of the sponsors of the show, Of course you are going to watch this show and want to know more about your family history. I want to know who the first people may have been in my family that wanted to explore, or wanted to roam. I fell for the bait and signed up for the trial. You get a free 14-day period to utilize the tools to start crafting your own family tree. I will say that it is limited in what you may have access to, but it is still thrilling to see records of your great-grandparents that you never met, identified in U.S. Census records. Overall, I think the Average Joe user could get far on, especially if you have the basic information about your people and where they came from. I on the other hand have this project to work on and can’t invest the time into being a pseudo genealogist. Instead, my goal now is to become notable enough of a person, perhaps as a result of my work on Everyone But Two, that Gates would select me on season 13 and he and his research team can do all the work for me.

As a final note about the show, the other thought that stands out while watching an episode is the idea that all our ancestors have had many hardships to endure. The mere fact that I am here writing this and you are reading this is because our ancestors made it so. Whether they fled the horror and atrocities of their homeland by long sea voyage, or were taken from their homeland by long sea voyage and faced horror and atrocities in a foreign land, for the most part, we are living in a much simpler time [I will however, not be naïve and omit the idea that there are not millions of people in the world who are still fleeing horror and atrocities today, at this very moment]. To think of all the difficult tasks and complications our ancestors had to endure is really something to think about. It is not something that should be taken for granted or lost in the moments when you are trying to make something of yourself. The saying may be cliché, but when people say, “we are standing on the backs of others,” it is the absolute truth. Let’s skip the obvious 1st or 2nd generation back, that could be considered recent history. Let’s delve back to past our 3rd generation. I have to admit, I complain daily about the petty details of life; the traffic, trying to find someplace to park, the high price of a cup of coffee, but think about what your 5th great grandparent may have had to do simply to get by daily. There are many people who have made many sacrifices that we have never met, we may not know their names, but we owe them. If nothing else, we owe them for giving us the opportunity to be. Strive for more and better.

* Golly, I hope this made sense

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