Monday, June 15, 2015

Who Am I? The Search for Roots

By Sara Niles
Humans are the only beings on earth that remember both their ancestors and descendants, and store memories, ideas, and images, building upon them to dream bigger and better dreams of a better world for future generations.


‘Who Am I’ is a question that is asked many times in a lifetime by introspective individuals, and the answer changes each step along the journey of life. While the basic inner core of our being remains fairly stable over time, relationships, jobs, habitats, and opinions change as we evolve and are honed by life experiences. One thing that does not change is who we are as people and as members of families with distinct roots and beginnings. Our fathers and mothers are forever our fathers and mothers, as are our extended biological families and our ancestors. Ancestry tells a tale of who we are by tracking our original and unique descent from whence we came. Knowing from whence we came by becoming familiar with the long lines of our ancestry gives us roots from out past. Like the strong and deeply imbedded roots of an oak tree, we stand in a place in time that was marked just for us and no other. Each one of us are unique in our existence and we owe it to those who came before us, be they good or bad, outstanding or lackluster, they are the reason why we are here.

“A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings “

Hodding Carter (1953) winner of Pulitzer and Guggenheim

The absence of roots may account for the lack of wings that plagues the youth of American Culture, for it is this grounded feeling of having roots that makes us know we can truly fly. I was not raised in a traditional home by traditional parents, but by two octogenarians who were likened to Sarah and Abraham because they had accepted the burden of raising a 3 ½ year-old little girl during their waning years. My Great-Great Uncle and Aunt were my caretakers and root givers for over a decade before their earthy lives came to an end, and I was sent on a new life adventure. 

My Great-Great Uncle was Robert Howard, the son of Henderson and Charlotte Howard, my Great-Great Grandparents who were born around the middle of the 19th century, and my uncle was born in 1881. I spent my childhood around a walking history book, a living keeper of the family record, but as children often do, I asked all the wrong questions and not many of the right ones, thus much of the  detail of my early roots was lost….or at least I thought it was lost.

While venturing onto the world wide web in search of any tidbit of data, I found a long lost relative who served as the eighty year-old family historian and keeper of the records. I was overwhelmed with excitement when I spoke to him via phone and found he remembered not only the things I knew to be true as a small child over half a century ago, but he knew far more than I could have ever hoped for. I found true treasure as I listened to the stories he recounted with accuracy, as my ancestors came to life. I learned of their life experiences, their hopes and dreams, and their trials and tribulations, and all the quirks of personality that make us truly human. I came face to face with my roots through my emotional connection to the people that made me possible. I am them- and they are now me, as they live through my memories and connectedness to them. I felt invigorated with a shot of immortality that comes when you continue to live through those that come after you, even long after you are gone.

I have roots that grew deep and I have wings that fly high. Thank you Cousin Howard, and God bless.