I have a quirky collection of television favorites on my DVR. I like everything from true crime to superheroes. One of my favorite shows is PBS’s “Finding Your Roots“; it’s about ancestry. Public figures have Professor Henry Louis Gates and his team, research their genealogy and family’s history. I really enjoy the history lesson and the curious turns each episode can take. It’s a wonderful show. Every time I watch, all I can think about is how I would love to have my ancestry thoroughly researched and investigated. And how much about my own family’s history I do not know. Each time a member of my family’s older generation passes away, I think of all the questions I didn’t get a chance to ask, and unknown answers I might never know.
There was a time when families used storytelling to pass down oral history to younger generations. I’m not sure when exactly this stopped, but I assume when TV, social media and video games came along, there was more to fill the empty space and silence within a home, and less need for that type of entertainment. I, like so many others and like the figures featured on “Finding Your Roots,” know little to nothing about my ancestors past my grandparents. I don’t know much about my grandparents’ siblings, and I only know faint information here and there about my great-grandparents.
Generational Storytelling: a Path to Our Future
Maybe the older generation is dropping hints little by little, and we just don’t listen or show interest. Maybe their memories are confused and their thinking cyclical. Either way, what information about myself am I missing by not knowing the people I come from? Sometimes I talk to my mother or my aunts and uncles and I can honestly say, I am still learning new things about the family. I don’t blame it all on the older generations in the family; the transatlantic slave trade made it so Black folk like me, knew very little to nothing about their roots. Twenty nineteen marks the 400-year anniversary of the middle passage, when enslaved Africans first touched down on American shores. Black families were torn apart. There was, and still is, so much trauma created because of this; I can imagine some stories are left in the dark, too troublesome to recall. The years since haven’t been all that great either.
Daily life can get in the way of storytelling and passing down oral history; I’m guilty of it myself. I have nieces and nephews and I cannot think of a single time when I sat them down and told them about my life. I believe storytelling and ancestry may hold clues to some of our behaviors, tenacity, strength, talents and interests if only we knew who may have first planted those seeds. If you have older people around you, ask them questions about their life. If you have young people around you, tell them about your life. In business and education, this can be seen in the form of mentoring. Pass stories along, so every generation knows how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.
My question to you, do you know your history?