The older I become, the more reflective I am. In the last 18 months, I have written a major family history that became as much of an adventure as a writing project. My project led to a three- volume book. Vllm. 1 captured my family story from 1730 to 1950. It was a journey of discovery as I learned about family members on all four sides of my family tree. Vllm. 2 recorded my nuclear family’s story, from the meeting of my parents in 1950 to my emigration to Canada in 1977. Vllm. 3 is a record of my own life, ministry, and family in Canada, from 1977 to the present day. All in all, there are 750 pages of text, photographs, and birth, marriage, and death certificate information.
As I wrote, I discovered several watershed moments. The movement of my family from an agrarian to an industrial society, and with it a migration from the east to the west coast of Scotland. The development and influence of the railway, an industry many of my paternal family were involved in. The child mortality rate that took so many young lives within my family, and the stories I discovered often brought me close to tears. The impact of the two World Wars, where family members served, and several died. I learned of existing family roots in Canada and the USA, in particular, as family members had emigrated in the last three centuries. I discovered pictures I had never seen before of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and my parents. Of particular personal interest was discovering five sets of twins on the paternal side of my family, including my twin brother and myself, and six ministers (five Presbyterian and one Baptist). There were four doctors on my maternal side of our family tree. I also learned a lot about my roots as a Presbyterian as I examined birth, baptism, marriage, and death records, and I was able to research the history of many of the congregations my family belonged to.
The main learning from the writing of my family history, for me, has been the importance of knowing our roots. Two quotations I found confirmed that for me. The first was an old Chinese proverb that says, “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.” The second was a quote from author John Steinbeck, who wrote, “How will our children know who they are if they do not know where they come from”?
If those things are true for us as individuals, and I firmly believe they are, they are especially important for us in terms of knowing our spiritual roots because they connect us to God our Creator. This is why spending time reading and studying the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is so important. It is why participating in a local congregation of Christian people is so vital. It is why teaching our children and youth the stories of our faith – both those in the Bible – as well as our own stories – is so essential. When we know our roots, we know where we belong and who we belong to! In an age when so many do not know their faith roots, or have dismissed them as unimportant, we need to help them discover their importance by affirming our own.