The mystery of a family’s history


”Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3: 12-14)

Do you ever feel like you’ll never escape your past?

My mother’s family have been farmers ever since they landed here, almost four centuries ago, and I’m never so happy as when I’ve got my hands in the dirt. No gloves. Preferably no shoes. Just the really nice hand trowels my brother got me when he worked for a seed company.

Of course, where I live, shoeless lasts only a few spring weeks until the fire ant mounds emerge. And gloveless is now cautious because one of my tightly planted perennial beds was hiding an ant nest a few years back.

In one corner: farmers, in the same town for centuries

But I still imagine that my blood flows as dark as the turf we tilled for centuries – literally in the same tiny town for almost two centuries. 

At least, that’s what I imagined until I started doing genealogy.

 In the other corner: wanderers who would not settle

Then I learned that my father’s family was quite different. They landed even before my mother’s people and began wandering almost immediately. From New England to New York to New Jersey to North Carolina to the Kentucky border where they fought in the Revolution back to Georgia where my ancestor settled – kind of – with an English wife, and kept a second wife in Cherokee territory, I suppose as a fringe benefit of whatever kind of job he had (trade?). I’m descended from the Cherokee side.

My Cherokee ancestor married an English and continued the westward movement. We bought someone’s failed land grant, kept moving. We were farmers and pharmacists; ran rooming houses; saw the Tulsa race riot from close enough to catch a stray bullet; went to a Billy Sunday crusade; became alcoholic; got into a Depression-era agricultural cooperative in California; kept moving, moving, moving. I guess that’s why Dad joined the Navy. He was hoping to stay on the move.

 Which is my “real” past?

So which past constrains me? The infinitely stable one: Methodist since 1810, farming in the same town from 1760 to 1920? Or the infinitely mobile one? The rigidly moral one? Or the one that took its morality from its community – bootleg liquor this year, revivalism the next?

Thanks be to God, I don’t have to rely on my surroundings or my past for my future.

God made Christians for: Living toward the future, in the hands of God.

How has your past seemed to constrain you? How have you learned to get free in Christ?

Copyright © 2009 – 2014 Carlene Hill Byron

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About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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