Every so often I see a commercial for Ancestry.com. The commercials always tell a short story about someone discovering their roots: a family owned business, the location of a grandparent’s house, an extra marriage. People are constantly searching to learn more about their family. Most people search, but I stumbled.
I love history, but I’ve never felt tied down to my family history. When I hear the stories of people searching out the town or village where there great-great-great-someone once stayed for the evening on a trip to some other unknown location, I usually chalk it up to them being slightly crazy. I’ve taken for granted that for most people their roots are not laid before their eyes. Despite being surrounded by family heirlooms much of my life, I’ve had few opportunities to feel the awe of standing in the steps of my fore-fathers. That was until this June.
My entire life I’ve heard story after story of the great history of our family in the Chicago area: about my great-grandfather’s written account of the Great Chicago Fire; of our role in the founding and development of Downers Grove; of my grandfather working as a cub-reporter in the city. A move to Chicago offered more than just a new scene, it offered a chance to connect with my family history.
I wish there were words to describe my feeling as I stepped through the home built by my great-great-great-grandfather in Downers Grove, Illinois (on the same property as the village historic center also built by a family member). Or discovering that an elementary school in Northern Chicago bears the name of my great-great grandfather. The same thought runs through my mind: We built this, we did this.
Suddenly my family history has become something tangible. It’s something I can actually reach out and touch and it’s awesome. Suddenly I appreciate the need so many people have to discover more about their family. The moment you can connect with a place (or object) or the moment you discover just a bit more about where your family comes from, you know where you came from. You have a sense of knowing, if even just a bit, who you are.