An Excerpt from When Descendants Become Ancestors…
"Congratulations—you’re going to be an ancestor (someday). You cannot escape it. Nor can I. Nor can anyone else. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your beliefs about an afterlife, but each body ultimately ceases to exist. We all know that. From the moment of birth, each of us begins a journey that must ultimately conclude with our entrance into ancestry.
As we research our own ancestors and mourn the lack of information available to us, we forget that we are the future ancestors of our descendants. And if we don’t leave to them the kinds of information about our lives that we crave to know about our own forefathers, then we are merely perpetuating the problem."
How often have you regretted your failure to engage the elder generations of your family for information about their lives and memories? How many times have you wanted just one more hour with a deceased relative who could answer that one burning question that you suddenly thought about, and that no one else can answer? Perhaps you remember a time when an older acquaintance wanted to share with you some stories about “the good old days,” but you couldn’t be bothered.
Most of us have had regrets like these, as will our descendants—unless we seek to record and preserve some stories for their use. Whether our stories are short and simple or long and complex matters not, but these stories will become part of their heritage and can certainly influence their lives. Though our contributions may not be recognized for decades, our lives matter to future generations and our stories should be told. The rest is up to each of us.
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Read an Excerpt
When Descendants Become Ancestors
The Flip Side of Genealogy
By David A. Kendall
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 David A. Kendall, PhD.
All rights reserved.
Connecting Means Sharing
Descendants Become Ancestors
While the search for family roots may be somewhat ingrained, the intense interest in genealogy that has developed and multiplied in recent years is largely due to explosions in both technology and research. The influx of personal computers on American society has spurred an unprecedented market for historical research. This demand for knowledge about family ancestors has led to the development of numerous websites, with researchers scurrying about to provide bits and pieces of data to continually satisfy all levels of genealogists.
What is often forgotten in this flurry of activity for ancestral knowledge is our own responsibility for keeping it going! Excited about the prospect of learning more about deceased relatives, we fail to plan for the day that we too will be added to that list.
Of course, this neglect is not universal. I have seen some marvelous life story accounts, numbering one hundred or more pages, carefully bound or placed in protective notebooks and intended primarily for family viewing and reading. In contrast, many consciously consider such endeavors to be frivolous, sentimental nonsense and a complete waste of their time.
Though the former group may profit from further encouragement and from some of the background material in this book, they have already "paid forward" their dues as the ancestors to coming generations. Their task is now expanded and modified. Above and beyond continuing to write their own ongoing stories, they can act as inspirers and mentors to all those who have not yet told their stories but silently might wish to do so. Perhaps they could even influence those skeptics who might never initiate story writing but might respond to the urging and nagging of friends and relatives.
However, this book is intended primarily for the huge majority of citizens in between these two extremes—those who value telling their stories but have not done so, those who have thought about it but are yet to begin, and those who have started and stopped, perhaps several times. While some of these may yet remain unwilling to actually write anything, they might be persuaded to verbally record their stories, if convinced of the importance.
My parents fit into this in-between group, so my brother and I videotaped nearly four hours of their life stories in the mid-1990s, a few years before their deaths at ages eighty-six and ninety-two. We have since transferred those four hours onto DVDs, which have been copied and made available to relatives for safekeeping. This procedure represents but one example of overcoming an initial reluctance to share life stories. Such stories can then be kept within the family or shared publicly at a later date, perhaps as a gift to a local museum.
Though older adults have perspectives on life not available to younger generations, children and teenagers should also be encouraged to contribute their ongoing experiences. Wouldn't most of us love to read the journals and diaries of our great-great-grandparents when they were in their youth? What a treasure that would be—not only to view the substance but also to have access to their thought processes, styles of communication, educational levels, daily activities, health issues, career aspirations, and so on! We adults can encourage new generations toward these activities, both by our enthusiasm and our modeling behavior.
Getting to Know My Initial World
It would be hypocritical of me to encourage readers to record life stories, while remaining silent about mine. Like everyone else, I am a product of genetics, education, life experiences, environmental influences, personal interpretations, and acquired beliefs—all of which have combined to shape my ongoing aspirations, behaviors, and attitudes. These are what make you and me different from one another and yet intrigued to discover not only our differences but also our similarities. Sharing lives and stories is the essence of existence. It's what makes life meaningful. It's what connects us. It's how we learn from one another.
Born during the Great Depression and growing up during the 1940s in a small village in a rural, economically depressed summer resort on the Canadian border in northern New York State, I was both protected and insulated from the massive post-World War II changes occurring in the big cities.
One hundred miles to the south was the nearest sizable city—its two TV stations unable to transmit clear images to our few well-to-do citizens, despite their oversized roof antennas and state-of-the-art seventeen-inch monitors. I never saw a TV set until I became a teenager, and then there was as much snow on the screen as there was on the ground outside. We got our news primarily from three sources: the regional newspapers to which nearly everyone subscribed, the radio newscasts of reporters such as Eric Severeid, Douglas Edwards, and Edward R. Murrow, and the Movietone and RKO Pathe news clips at the local movie theater prior to the showing of the feature film. Some of the news, of course, was weeks old by the time it got to us.
New technology was virtually nonexistent in our village. Phone calls were still patched in by live operators in a small building on the village waterfront, and many times I would have a short conversation with one of them, the mother of a friend, after I heard her familiar voice, "Number, please." Nor was it unusual to lift the receiver and listen in on conversations of others on the party line. Today such eavesdropping would be considered a terrible infringement of privacy, but back then it was merely an accepted nuisance and inconvenience. Of course, there were no computers, copiers, tapes, CDs, DVDs, video games, cell phones, digital cameras, iPads, iPods, or other conveniences we now take for granted.
Few families had automobiles, and none had more than one. Doors were left unlocked at night because crime was rare. Our tiny village jail in the middle of town, when in occasional use, housed mostly weekend drunks "sleeping it off" until they could be driven home by the community's lone policeman. Saturday nights might occasion a few raucous parties, but pews in the village's four churches were generally filled on Sunday mornings with repentant sinners.
By the accounts of many big city folk, we were backward and primitive. But that's not what I perceived. I saw a simple but caring community where people looked out for one another. I saw intact families where marital commitment was far more than a ceremony or piece of paper. I saw (and experienced) kids being kids, where we made up our own games and rules—with adult knowledge and permission but without adult interference.
Yes, there was a subtle pecking order in the community, especially between the haves and have-nots, though there were few of either in the extreme. Some bullying did exist in the schools. There was a distinct, yet vague, intolerance among the churches, especially between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but that was at the adult level; we children seldom knew the difference, or cared.
In spite of these underlying dynamics, most of us thrived in that environment. Yes, the school dropout rate was high as the culture and economy forced many students to help feed their families, and fewer than 20 percent of graduates went on to college. Most stayed in the area, married, worked, and raised families, many of whose descendants are still solid contributors to the community.
As early as elementary school, as I began reading about the violent horrors of ancient worlds and the ravages of World War II (I was eight years old when that war ended), I daydreamed about becoming president of a United World and ending all the senseless sparring and killing. While I engaged in a few harmless childhood tussles myself, I only remember one short-lived fight. Certainly my size helped, as I was physically larger than most of my male classmates. Still, I never wanted to fight and usually found a way to avoid that means of settling arguments.
Academics came easily to me in our small K-12 centralized school, and I did well in all subjects, though my favorites were social studies and English. While I was more interested in athletics than academics, my occupational goal of somehow promoting peace in the world kept gnawing at me behind the scenes. Though the Great Depression of the 1930s, among other family tragedies, had denied both my parents a desired first-generation college education, further schooling was an unspoken expectation for their children. My continuing interest in history and government influenced my college major, and my specialization quite naturally was international relations.
So I went to college—not just any college, but a huge Ivy League university jammed with great scholars from large city high schools. I felt lost and misplaced. I knew I didn't belong; I just didn't fit in. Athletics had always been my fallback activity, but I had broken my leg in senior year football, and it was still painful, so I couldn't compete. I tried baseball, but my skills in that sport were marginal at best. I had no money, and I was clearly overmatched—academically, socially, athletically, and economically. So I isolated myself and studied—and studied—and studied! By sheer perseverance I managed to last four years and graduate, albeit in the bottom quarter of the class.
I still had dreams, but reality now dominated desire. Upon graduation, I had no money, no permanent job, no prospects, and lots of debt. I had been accepted at the American Institute of Foreign Trade in Arizona for graduate study but could not even afford travel costs, much less tuition and living expenses.
I was not at all interested in teaching, but teachers were in demand and, through a series of circumstances in late summer, I was offered a last-minute job in the same K-12 school from which I had graduated four years earlier. Even though I had not been trained as a teacher, I grasped the opportunity to make some money and begin a life of relative independence. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the experience, and my future was altered forever.
My Vision Expands
I began to realize that each of us is a teacher, whether professionally trained or not. We cannot escape that role. Like it or not, we are all role models. Others learn from our behavior whether or not we desire that outcome. And not only do we teach our contemporaries, but we are also links between our past and our future. We are the genealogy of our offspring. We are the lineage and roots of the yet unborn.
As we research our own ancestors and mourn the lack of information available to us, we forget that we are the future ancestors of our descendants. And if we don't leave to them the kinds of information about our lives that we crave to know about our own forefathers, then we are merely perpetuating the problem. The only solution is to begin recording our experiences, to show the world how our lives have unfolded, and to do it with intention.
We cannot accurately accomplish this goal without understanding our own past influences, present circumstances, and future desires. We cannot adequately comprehend our own existence or proclaim to coming generations life's processes and our conclusions without examining our own life experiences. In simpler terms, understanding our personal journey—whatever it may uncover—is essential to fully understanding ourselves and to teaching our descendants about life. We must remember that our stories and experiences become part of their heritage.
I had only been teaching for six months and was just starting to settle into a comfort level when I received a mandated invitation from Uncle Sam asking me to serve him, so I immediately joined the Army Reserves in order to limit my initial active duty to six months rather than two years. Though upon termination of active duty it meant attending weekly meetings and two weeks of summer training for the next five and a half years, at the time that option seemed more attractive, or perhaps less invasive. In retrospect, my vague dreams were becoming a bit clearer, but I had developed absolutely no plans to implement any of them. I remained lost.
My eight weeks of basic training began in late June at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and continued on to Fort Gordon, Georgia, where I received my first cultural jolt. Upon arrival at the stopover Atlanta airport (my first airplane ride) in September 1960, I found myself staring at signs I'd never seen before—signs of racial separation and discrimination.
Prior to that time I'd been exposed to only a few African Americans (none in my home village, and only a few at the university), except during the basic training I'd just encountered at Fort Dix. I'd never seen forced separation of seating areas, dining areas, restrooms, or drinking fountains—and I cringed at what I saw. As a history student, I knew all about the Civil War and its remnants, but knowledge is far different from experience.
Both at Fort Dix and Fort Gordon, most of my classroom instructors were white and college-educated, while my field trainers were African American and noncollegians. Yet, in many cases, I found the integrity and wisdom of the latter group to be far superior. As I reflected on my small-town roots and on the many relatively uneducated people who had shaped my environment and prepared my path, I saw that same integrity and wisdom.
For over fifty years that incongruence has gnawed at me. So many "ordinary" people, with so much to offer present and future generations, and so few writing down and preserving their stories! And elsewhere, so many highly educated, powerfully positioned people making decisions from lofty pedestals for a populace they could never know and whose lives were totally different.
Ironically, I would come to join that elite group, though I never identified with them in my heart. I always felt like an outsider in academia. While certainly motivated to improve my life circumstances, I remained inspired by those who had nurtured my growth, those who had so much to contribute but were largely silent, those ignored by the outside world.
Worse yet, too many of these villagers seemed to believe that they were indeed insignificant or trivial, with little influence outside their immediate locale. Convinced of their relative unimportance, congruent behaviors usually followed. Experience taught me that my observations were not isolated instances, that such were the results whenever and wherever affluence and other indications of success were absent, and in some cases where they were present.
Since I was also afflicted with some of the same thought processes, I first had to heal myself. As I improved in my own mental and emotional strength, it fostered my desire to teach others about recognizing their own value and about relating more productively both to one another and to the outside world—issues I had observed in both adults and children and struggled with many times in my own development. But the entry-level education for my eventual goal was a PhD.
I finished my active army obligation in December 1960, and decided to use the following semester to attend graduate school and finish my master's degree, which I had begun during my one year of teaching. During that unsettled time, I recall a conversation with a friend who advised me that I could get my educational master's degree in one of three areas—classroom teaching, administration, or guidance counseling. The prospect of spending a lifetime in a public school classroom was not appealing, nor was sitting behind a desk dealing with budgets, discipline, PTAs, boards of education, and the like. I knew nothing about school counseling, as it had been virtually nonexistent in my educational experience, so I chose that track by eliminating the other two.
Excerpted from When Descendants Become Ancestors by David A. Kendall. Copyright © 2014 David A. Kendall, PhD.. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Connecting Means Sharing, 3,
Chapter 2 Why Bother?, 21,
Chapter 3 What Kind of Person Are You?, 39,
Chapter 4 Is an Oral Legacy Good Enough?, 64,
Chapter 5 Challenging Our Obstacle Courses, 78,
Chapter 6 What to Tell Your Descendants, 93,
Chapter 7 How to Tell Your Stories, 107,
Chapter 8 Learning Our ABCs, etc, 125,
Chapter 9 What Principles Guide Your Stories?, 152,
Chapter 10 The Broader Picture, 177,
Sample Stories, 203,
Getting Started, 206,
On the Move!, 210,
My Infant Story, 215,
My Infant Experience, 216,
Preschool Memories, 219,
Elementary School Years, 224,
Western Style, 229,
The Bracelet, 230,
Bite Your Tongue!, 231,
The Perfect Curse, 233,
Recycling Life, 237,
A Youthful Decision with Far-Reaching Consequences, 240,
Night and Day—Home or Away, 243,
The Irony of a Kiss, 245,
The Snow Shed that Vanished, 248,
Writer's Cramp, 251,
My Name is Dorliska, 254,
A Link to the Past, 256,
The Week I Played God, 260,
Now It's Your Turn, 271,
About the Author, 311,
Appendix A, 313,
Appendix B, 315,
Appendix C, 333,