The Genealogy of Ancestors

I just returned from a short visit to the three adjacent counties in Southern Indiana where my father's family was raised for three generations past. The visit was just the latest in a nearly twenty year tour of the genealogy of my ancestors. Given that my father died when I was a very young boy and that there was literally no family to help the trace, this quest has required a lot of patient research. Through this process I have discovered many things that have added to the memories of my youth and defined this mysterious man called father well within the story that I have created about him and hence the story of my own existence.

There is a place within of deep calm and fond acceptance of this man who I never really knew in life but have come to call my best friend in the ethers that serve to keep us sane and balanced in the ever increasing madness that surrounds us. But walking around and through the overgrown misty cemeteries of the rolling Indiana hills, I let go of dad and found myself involved in the discovery of the dozens of faceless distant aunts, uncles, cousins and others whose names I share but whose lives I couldn't possibly know. Worn and weathered headstones from 1790, 1845 1898, 1907, years that only exist on tombstones but that mark a spot in history that should never be forgotten and in some way honored, if only for a moment.

Something changed in me during that trip and I'm not sure quite what it was. Perhaps, now that I can get into any movie in town for half price as an elder, I am more respectful of the inevitability of death; or perhaps it is just that age brings with it a slowing down and morenatural order to the chaos that keeps the unimportant mixed with the important and the lines of separation so fuzzy as to be unidentifiable. I don't know if there were spirits available to me there, and I don't know if I experienced some kind of communication that opened my eyes to a mystery or two that still needs to be assimilated. Some of that may have happened, but I have another thought that is a bit more comfortable at the moment. That is the sense that I now know where my DNA has been.

During the trip I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in a small local museum and read the obituaries of many of my ancestors and talked to people who actually knew many of the family. Most of them were farm folks and didn't stray too far. I read accounts of their high school activities, their church affiliations and how respected they were as people, community members and neighbors.

I think I am processing a recognition of what it is to be be of the land and its people. Sure there are a lot of twelve foot high pick up trucks and rednecks who look at a stranger with a quizzical eye; sure life is simple there but the people smile a lot and everyone waves at you as you pass by. It doesn't seem to matter that they don't know you. I live in the city...a big city...and no one ever waves at me here. 

Today I went out for a ride and as I passed a few cars in traffic, I waved. No one waved back. A few looked at me with a very blank stare. Most just pretended they didn't see me. But I think that I learned something at those cemeteries; that it doesn't really matter if they wave back or not. My recognition of them is what is important. It's important to me and whether they know it or not, it's important to them. No one waved back at the cemetery either. If there were spirits attached to those tombstones, I think they were happy that I was there and if they could have waved, I'm sure they would have... or did.  

And perhaps they are not much more dead than many of us who are still breathing and don't wave back.

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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