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Why I Believe In The Past

Updated on November 18, 2019
Nick Burchett profile image

Nick is a US Army veteran, husband and father of three, and has a BA in history. He is a Civil War aficionado and also enjoys genealogy.

Authors maternal great-grandfather John Z. Easley/Hicks, who was born in 1878
Authors maternal great-grandfather John Z. Easley/Hicks, who was born in 1878 | Source

It is interesting how time and age change a person’s perspective on what is important and what is not. As a youth I don’t recall having any real draw towards the past. I never really wondered where my ancestors came from or what history books in school could teach me. I truly lived in the now without regard to the past. As an adult however I discovered that without our past; without our history, the present and future really do not have any meaning.

When I became interested in the American Civil War, I began to research my family tree to determine if I had any ancestors who served during that bloody conflict. The goal was strictly self-serving, to gain membership for myself in an organization that required proof of such an ancestor. But what initially was just a search for a way into a present day organization turned into something far more revealing and I believe has helped me really redefine what is important and what is not in my life.

My research brought me into contact with relatives, living and passed on. This research led first to conversations with my parents. My mother is also interested in genealogy and has done extensive research on her parent’s ancestral line. So discussions with her were always fruitful, and even better, it has become a topic that brings mother and son together and to reminisce.

Unfortunately, one of the things that is common is we wait just a little too long to talk to those who elders in our family. Had my interest in our families past began at a younger age I could have spoken with my grandfather and probably gained knowledge about a line that is not well documented and as I go back further is becoming more difficult to research. At the initial time of this writing, I had a 90 year old great aunt who was still alive, the last of her father’s children. Unfortunately, she too has since passed on and every good intention to visit this relative I had never met passed on into eternity, a wasted opportunity to form a relationship with a part of my heritage. This is an important lesson – talk to you grandparents, great aunts, etc. before they are gone. Not only will you learn about your ancestry, but you will draw closer to those with more years behind them than in front of them.

Authors 2nd great grandfather, George W. Brown who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.
Authors 2nd great grandfather, George W. Brown who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 12th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. | Source

You will find, if you are diligent all sorts of stories from your families past. I found out that I did indeed have several distant relatives who served in the Civil War, and in fact, as of this writing I have found a total of 6 who served (all for the Union I might add). I also found out that there were no well-known or famous people in my past, mostly a bunch of illiterate farmers who worked the land and took care of their family. But this is equally as important as finding a famous or influential ancestor. It gives you an insight into who you are, why you believe as you do, and what values and principles your family holds.

But I also found through records, documents and research unique stories involving people that became personal to me knowing that this was not someone else’s story, but my own legacy. In these findings I found that there was more to who I am than just my immediate family. I found the importance of history, the importance of family, and the importance of using my family history as the foundation for my present and future. My past served this country in every war this nation has fought. My past rarely had a college education, but was able to provide for their families. My past had heroes, ne’er-do-wells, and common people who believed in living a simple, honest life. My past is the past of millions of families that make up this nation, whose stories, while not always glamorous or full of celebrities, are not so different from mine, and equally important to America.

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History and our heritage are not impersonal faces and numbers. When a person really digs in they learn that history isn’t really a bunch of boring names and dates, but fascinating stories that are the essence of who we are. I believe that the understanding of my past, the understanding of the history of our country and of our world is not only essential for our understanding of the world around us, but it is essential to our understanding of what we are and who we can be. The trials, sacrifices and pain of growing as a nation, are firmly rooted in your great-grandparents perseverance in providing for the family during the Depression. It is in that long lost great uncle, who gave his life in World War II. It is something that, deep down, we realize is a part of us today as it was to them years ago.

Invest in yourself and your family’s future by learning who your ancestors were, what they did, and where they were from and you find a story as interesting as any novel. Edmund Burke said it best when he said, "People will not look forward to posterity who never looks backward to their ancestors."


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