One of the most fascinating things about history is that you have one. From the day you are born you are acquiring a history. Freud believed that the psyche was comprised of three separate parts: Id, Ego, and Super-Ego. The day we are born we are Id-based creatures. Everything we do is an action derived from the Id. They are survival instincts: eating, crying, sleeping. As a child you may have been afraid of the dark, of spiders, or snakes. Theoretically, the reason that these fears seem, in a sense cliché, and the reason we discover them from such an early age could be because they are “gene memories”. Our ancestors would have had to have been afraid of snakes in order to survive in the wilderness without venom poisoning. So, it’s built into our DNA. In theory, generations of adrenaline surges probably altered our genome so that we respond to situations in an appropriate manner. So then what else is passed on through our
subconscious without our realizing it? How many generations does it take to elicit a genetic response in our body. Can our genes have memories that are more complex or even just broader than fear?
Of course, there is no real answer at this point, and I’m sure there are many people far better suited to discuss genetics and chemistry than I am. But it’s an interesting thought to consider. The first time I considered those questions, was in high school during a Psychology lecture, my father would spend his nights after work glued to the computer rummaging through old genealogical records, call it his version of a mid-life crisis, I guess. (Like father, like daughter, right?) In a time when people begin to search for a deeper meaning through fast cars, and flashy phones. My dad was finding meaning in his family history. (Well, that and, he already had a pretty sweet car.) I remember spending a lot of time talking to him about all the different possibilities of where we came from. Some sources suggested an Egyptian princess, an east coast railroad baron, the possibilities put butterflies in my stomach!
As a newlywed I have been rediscovering the excitement of uncovering your personal history. My husband isn’t really much for family history. In fact, my husband hasn’t even met many of his cousins, so when my mother-in-law tells stories about her family, I listen. Her stories are very personified, much like in the movie Big Fish . You never know exactly what you are going to get, even if you were there for the actual event. But it’s great to listen to the stories about how she got her “Indian name” and what motivated her writing. That’s right, unbeknownst to me until about a week ago, my mother-in-law is a published writer. She has had a chronicle of her poetry published and sold locally as well as a children’s book about wildlife. All under different pen names! I couldn’t have ever discovered this without talking to her first hand, so my point is, when trying to establish your personal history, use your resources wisely. Your relatives won’t be around forever, and they are like gold in your search for where you come from! Sit down and talk a while!
Interestingly, my hubby’s family has lived in Dakota County for at least three generations. His brother, uncle and grandfather (who interestingly all bear the same name) all became lawyers and actively involved within the community. This comes in handy, since we have such an unusual last name. A lawyer who I work with, recognized the name almost the day I returned to work with the new moniker. I learned a few stories from him, apparently my Grandpa-in-law was quite prolific. Later, my supervisor at the Dakota County Historical Society discovered a Letter to the Editor that Grandpa had written in 1956 to the South St. Paul Reporter. Let me tell you, that guy was a firecracker. Without having met him, I like him.
Sometimes, it will seem you coincidentally land on your discoveries. But that is why you have always keep your eyes open, there are so many resources that are available to you if you are patient and persistent.
So, I’m still at the very beginning of this adventure. But every day, the histories we are weaving grow more intricate and more vast. It seems to me that when I buy something at a thrift store, or move into a new neighborhood, that in some way, their stories become a part of mine. What a beautiful thing it is! What do you find interesting about your personal history? How did you go about discovering your story? What was the first thing that made you really wonder what the story was that you are a part of?
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