When I was a young child, my older siblings would try to confuse me with the saying, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Quick research revealed it to be a Dale Carnegie quote. When rattled off quickly to a six- or seven-year-old, it initially sounds like gibberish. Once I got somewhere quiet, and could think about the words, I realized it made perfect sense.
Genealogists spend a lot of time reading, researching, and thinking about the past. Yesterdays are very important to us, and we expend a lot of effort trying to tease the truth out of records about our past. Our ancesters frequently thwart us, by hiding from the census enumerator, running off to marry in the state next door, living in counties whose courthouses keep burning down, or dying without a will.
We are so focused on looking backwards, sometimes we forget that we are the future of our ancestors. I doubt they thought much about us, but here we are, continuing on their bloodlines, and living lives directly influenced by their decisions.
My DNA is a collection of my ancestors. Every gene inside me started with someone centuries ago. Each generation, some new genes found their way into my DNA strand, as others dropped off, to make room for those new ones. Go back enough generations, and some of those ancestors have no genetic connection to me at all. It doesn’t mean I don’t descend from them—I just don’t have that person’s DNA.
Just like my DNA is a summary of the ancestors before me, my life itself is a result of all those ancestors’ decisions—big and small—and probably the decisions of some people who ended up NOT becoming my ancestors! Were they thinking about the future, at that time? Probably not. They were just living their lives, and making decisions that seemed to be the best for themselves, right then. Each of their seemingly inconsequential decisions shaped their future, and that of their children, grandchilden, and so on.
“Wait, you don’t understand. If you don’t play, there’s no music. If there’s no music, they don’t dance. If they don’t dance, they don’t kiss and fall in love and I’m history.”Marty McFly, “Back to the Future“
Marty wasn’t a genealogist, and even he understood this! His very existence depended on an unimportant sequence of events.
It’s an idea I’ve toyed with in other posts, not necessarily spelling it out. Some examples?
- My mom might not have asked out a boy she didn’t really know, if she hadn’t liked dancing—or apparently had a couple of “dud” dates (Going to the Chapel).
- Great grandmother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger might have stayed in Wisconsin, and married someone there, if she hadn’t gone to work for a Chicago North Shore family (Trick or Treat)
- I could have ended up a “California girl” if Chicago’s fall weather had been more blustery when my dad was discharged from the Navy. After 18 months in the South Pacific, and another 18 months in California’s Imperial Valley, Dad would have moved back to San Diego if the weather hadn’t been so nice!
- I would have a different collection of children—if I’d gone to Brigham Young University, instead.
Of course, Mike’s biggest concern about the future, is what to do with all the genealogy if I make the mistake of dying first . . .
The Future. We worry about it all the time, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that we hold it in our hands and create it with every decision we make. It would behoove us to take Doc Brown’s advice!