Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.
This past summer, I worked as a historic interpreter at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island. Dressed up as a soldier who would have been stationed there in the 1880s, I spent the summer shooting rifles, muskets and cannons for visitors.
The summer was an incredible experience, but my favorite part might surprise you.
The best part of the summer wasn’t the fact that I was living on a beautiful island, or even that I was firing black powder weapons several times a day. Instead, the privilege of talking to thousands of different people during the course of my employment impacted me the most.
People from around the country, and even from across the globe, came to visit the island. I had the opportunity to personally interact with thousands of these visitors, many times covering a wide range of topics. My favorite subject I ended up discussing with a lot of visitors was family histories.
Visitors jumped at the chance to tell me about their family’s experiences. I heard love stories and war stories. I had a woman describe how she met her husband at the fort, and a man tell me his story about how he fought in World War II. Countless families told me about their ancestors fighting in the Civil War or immigrating to the United States. After sharing my personal experiences with the visitors, we often discussed the importance of making sure family histories are not lost.
Recently, there has been a new trend of people taking a special interest in their family histories. Technology has greatly helped with people’s quests to fill in the branches of their family tree with digitized records and websites, such as Ancestry.com.
However, I believe that simply filling in the branches of the family tree isn’t enough.
Having stories to supplement each member of the family tree is something much more powerful than just birth and death dates.
Lately, I’ve made it a point to try to figure out as much about my family history as I possibly can. Other than my immediate family, almost my entire family still lives in Poland. Through persistent interrogation, I’ve found out information, such as amazing acts of bravery, triumphs and hardships experienced by members of my family through wartime and the communist era.
Whenever I get the chance to visit my family in Poland again, I will make it a point to record the stories of all my relatives.
Although I am privileged enough to have so much of my family still alive, I understand they won’t be around forever to relate their and their parents’ stories.
When I eventually have kids or nieces and nephews, I want to pass on these tremendous stories of their ancestors to them. Many people might question the value of knowing these stories, as they don’t affect their everyday life, but I believe having these stories is growing in importance as the digital age progresses.
Knowing as much as possible about our roots helps humble our modern generation. Without my grandparents braving World War II in Poland, or my parents moving across the Atlantic, I might never have been born, or if I had, I would have lived a completely different life.
By realizing the important and sometimes not-so-obvious fact that our grandparents were once young adults, we begin to understand the importance of what we do every day.
Your actions affect the future generations that might not be born yet.
Even if learning about your family history doesn’t completely interest you, it still is important for it to be done, if not for you, for future generations. At the very least, learning about your family history should be done in respect of those who wish they had a loving family to learn about.
While we are getting ready to spend a lot of time with family during winter break, remember to humble yourself around your family. Ask your grandparents about their lives and consider having them record or write down their stories.
Remember to honor the fact that some of your peers might not be as fortunate as you are, as their families might be unreachable, far away or deceased.
Instead, imagine parents coming home from war and greeting their children, or movie homecomings such as George rushing back to greet his family when he thought he was never going to see them again in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
My challenge to you is to be half as excited as these homecomings when you see your family members this holiday break. You never know if it might be the last time you see that member of your family. Please consider recording your families’ stories and paying special attention to your family tree. If these stories are recorded, you will be able to perpetuate your parents’ and grandparents’ lives through your life, and the lives of future generations.
Although every member of your extended family might not live to see the next generation, their personality, lessons and experiences live on through your actions. Be sure to make them proud.
Piotr Buniewicz is a guest columnist at The State News and an elementary education senior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.