- - Friday, September 5, 2014

I’m amazed at how many Americans don’t know their own family heritage any further back than their grandparents. For many years, I was one of them.  I would casually tell people, “My family never really talked much about our family tree, because we were afraid we’d find horse thieves hanging from the branches.” But, bad or good, I always wondered about my roots.

I’m not alone. Millions of Americans have the same questions.

So, what happened?  Were so many of our families separated in the westward expansion that we lost our connections to the past?   Were families in such crisis during the World Wars or the Great Depression that mere survival was their only focus?  Was there a generation that just wanted to forget the past?  Was it the “live for today” mentality of the ‘60s that deemed it “old fashioned” to have any roots or history?  It was probably a combination of many factors, but the affect of the loss of our personal histories has been far-reaching.  

Without fail, when someone discovers the stories in their own family tree, they become empowered and inspired.  I know this from personal experience, because eight years ago, someone helped me discover my lost family legacies, and it changed me forever. I found stories of great sacrifice, courage, conviction, service, struggle, conflict, diversity and triumph. Some of my ancestors lived in a cave for the first few years and purchased land rights from the Native Americans who helped them plant new crops and build sufficient shelter.  Several of my ancestors intermarried with the Native Americans and eventually became a large, tri-racial family in the south. Knowing your roots helps you see yourself and others in a completely new light.  Understanding your own historical context enlightens your approach to life.  Regardless of whether the legacy is great or tragic, the simple knowledge and ownership of that legacy gives power to the one who receives it.  

My new favorite TV show is TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are.”  It takes a celebrity who has little or no knowledge of their family tree and helps them find their roots.  After visiting the places where their ancestors lived, worked and died, almost every celebrity on the show walks away with the same sentiment.  It doesn’t matter whether they find out that they are descended from royalty or from paupers, each finds a point of impact in their own story where they take ownership in the legacy they’ve been given.  I think Valerie Bertinelli said it best.  Standing on the cobble-stone streets where her eight times great grandfather once lived, holding back tears, she exclaimed, “I have a lot to live up to!”  The knowledge of the actions and lives of our ancestors gives us ownership in their legacy and inspires us to make our own contribution to it.

As a nation, America must do the same.  We must remember where we’ve come from, what we’ve been given and what we’ve accomplished as a people in order to find our way forward.  

There’s no doubt that America is at a turning point.  We’re uneasy about our role on the world stage because for too long we’ve been told who we should be instead of remembering who we actually are.  We’ve inherited a fortune of freedom and opportunity un-paralleled in the annals of human history but the maintenance of our inheritance comes with a heavy price.  

Today, the world is in turmoil and our enemies are increasing at every turn.  Yet I believe that the power to solve these problems is hidden in plain view.  The power lies in us; it’s in our national history and our national bloodline.  It’s in the story of every American family who worked to leave a legacy of opportunity to their children and grandchildren.  

Our love of peace and freedom has always been precariously balanced with the necessity of defending our rights to those very values.  But in recent years, we’ve seemed to tire of our job of carrying the mantle of liberty for the world.  It has cost us so much for so long!  It’s the high price of freedom that we’ve started to question or try to pass off to others.  Perhaps we’ve begun to question it’s worth because we’ve forgotten what the world is like without freedom. We’ve forgotten that “freedom is a fragile thing.”

It’s no wonder we’re facing a national identity crisis.  There’s been an all-out effort to re-write our history into a politically correct, self-deprecating guilt trip.  The facts have been hidden or changed to fit a particular narrative until our children don’t even get a chance to know the facts anymore.  Over time, we’ve allowed the government to separate us into neat little boxes and categories. From our tax system, to government forms, to school curriculums, to college scholarships, to places of worship, to political groups; Americans have been separated and categorized in every conceivable way.  The great American patchwork quilt is unraveling when it should be growing in strength and size.

We must be honest about the good: the millions of persecuted and oppressed who came to these shores looking for a better life; the peaceful Pilgrims who recognized the native Americans as original owners of the land and made treaties and agreements which were honored in peace for generations; the simple tradesman sent here to establish new trades for their sovereigns; the indentured servants who labored to re-pay the price of their passage and worked to become the first generation to ever own land; the emergence of thirteen separate colonies, populated by many who had escaped religious persecution; the slave who miraculously survived certain death on a slave schooner and eventually saved enough to purchased his own freedom.  They elected their leaders for one hundred years before deciding to fight for their independence as one nation.  They established the most unique form of self-government the world has ever seen.  They invented, discovered, created, built and traded.  Freedom of the mind allowed for unlimited possibilities, which lead to the most incredible scientific advancements in human history.  And yet, they still remembered why their ancestors had come. Thus, when evil reared it’s ugly head, they recognized it and took action.  They fought to liberate others, not to conquer.  They believed that the spread of freedom and opportunity would ensure the safety of their own descendants.  

We also must be honest about the bad: the government’s treacherous actions against many Native Americans, the horrors of slavery, the hardships and devastation of the Civil War, segregation and racial discrimination, the dark days of the Depression, the Mob, gang violence and social unrest.  All must be faced, understood and forgiven.

It’s time that America did some digging in the old family tree, to re-discover the legacy of freedom that has been given to us at great cost.  We don’t need a “great leader” giving us a pep-talk in order to come out of this fog.  The answer lies in us.  We are the descendants of every day heroes who left us with our own, unique legacies to follow.  The only way a legacy can lose it’s power is for it to be forgotten. That’s why the next American generation deserves to know the truth of where we came from and what we’ve been given.  When we know that, we will be able to clearly see the path ahead and lead the world toward peace and freedom once again.  So, I’m “Just Sayin’,”  dust off those history books and family trees, because, honestly, we “have a lot to live up to!”

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