A couple of months that feel more like years ago, I randomly signed up for a free ancestry site called FamilySearch. I didn't expect much, but thought it couldn't hurt. Now, my mom and I are blown away by the family history that has been uncovered that we never even knew about. Crazy, interesting stories and people we never would have guessed we were related to.
All this mess that's been going on lately has gotten me thinking about these people in my past. Some of them no one would ever guess we were related to. One interesting thing we've discovered about our family is that, besides a somewhat odd tendency to always go by middle names (call me Marie, why don't you?), our family has an interesting tendency to marry the people our ancestors fought against, possibly with a long history of prejudice.
Among my ancestors are several memebers of Germanic tribes, including Goths, Visigoths, Franks, Vandals, Saxons, and others. There are several tribal kings, among them several Saxon kings and Frankish kings (who were probably named Louis). The bitter rivals of the Germanic tribes, not counting each other, were the Romans, and I am also very likely descended from a line of Roman senators and consuls which includes one dictator.
Of my ancestors from the Germanic tribes, some are Britons who were left behind after the Romans abandoned Britain, and some are of the Saxons that invaded. I have ancestors that fought against the Norman invasion and ancestors that were Normans given noble lands and castles as a result of the Norman invasion and one ancestor that led the Norman invasion (William the Conqueror). I am descended from Vikings and the English king that kicked the Vikings out of England. I am descended from Irishmen and from Englishmen, who have a long history of hatred and prejudice towards each other (though it's mostly one way, the English oppressing the Irish) and from Welshmen, who are still being oppressed by the English, and from two of Robert the Bruce's sisters (their kids married each other, and yes, I'm grossed out), who were rivals with, you guessed it, the English. (Can we all agree that the English have a long history of prejudice and rivalry?) I'm descended from English kings and French kings who most definitely fought wars against each other.
My French and German ancestors fought each other, and so did my German and Polish ancestors. I have ancestors on both sides of World War One and an ancestor who tried to fight in the war for America and wound up staying home. I have an ancestor who's a Native American and possibly the daughter of Pocahontas and Kocoum, and several not-so-nice ancestors from Jamestown.
And then we come to my hero, Elizabeth Key Grinstead. She was the daughter of a slave from Africa and Thomas Key, an English slave owner. At the age of six, her father was sued for paternity and forced to provide for his daughter. He made her an indentured servant and died shortly after. He was a jerk, but he did make his friend who held the indenture promise to treat her like his daughter and take her with him if he moved back to England. The friend did move back to England, but instead of taking Elizabeth with him, he sold her indenture to another man to pay off some debts. This other man kept Elizabeth nine years after her indenture was up. Elizabeth could have become bitter and angry. She could have hated the man who enslaved her and any of his nationality. She had no reason not to hate the English.
When Elizabeth met a young indentured servant from England named William Grinstead, she didn't hate him. Instead, they fell in love. They got married, as much as they were legally allowed as indentured servants. They had a child named John. Then the man that owned her indenture died. Elizabeth and her son were listed as slaves. They were going to be sold off in an estate sale. But William fought for her freedom in court after court, eventually going to the House of Burgesses and convincing the court to free her. She received compensation for the nine years she was enslaved over the terms of her indenture. As soon as William's indenture was up, they were married officially and had another son, who was also named William. This is the man who was my ancestor. They lived happy lives, though short ones, because life expectancy was super short in those days. (Unfortunately, Virginia changed the laws after William's death so no slave could ever win his or her freedom the same way William won Elizabeth's freedom.)
Some of these rivalries have died away, but some of them are still with us today. Hatred in this world is so common; it's rarer to find freedom from hatred and prejudice than to find someone that is ruled by it. I'm not here to judge who is right and who is wrong in the conflict that is tearing our nation apart these days. The rivalries my ancestors fought and believed in were legitimate rivalries on both sides. Some were more balanced than others in crimes committed against each other, and some were steeped in oppression of one by another (probably by the English, if we're all being honest). But these rivalries and long histories of hatred didn't hold some people back. In the midst of these crimes and rivalries, somewhere along the line, some of these people put aside their differences and their crimes and the crimes of their ancestors and decided to forge a new history, a different history, a history that ended in love and family and new life.
I am not my ancestors. I cannot be praised for their good deeds or condemned for their mistakes. I cannot change the things I've done in the past, for good or for ill. Neither can anyone else. All we can choose to do is move forward and forge a new future. We can choose to react to horrific crimes in emotion and anger, we can perpetuate rivalries, or we can choose to move above that. We can react with kindness instead of anger, love instead of hate. We can choose to pursue justice without hatred and end corruption without corrupting ourselves. We can make a difference while being the difference.
This year has been one punch after the other, and who knows if it's going to stop? Hatred is not going to stop. It's been in this world since the Garden of Eden and it's going to be here until Judgement Day comes and the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes back to this world to take us home. Crimes are not going to stop. Evil men are always going to exist. We can choose to live in hatred with them, as some of our ancestors did, or we can choose to live above that, put the past behind us, and forge a new future.
After all, it's what my ancestors would have wanted.
Recompense to no man evil for evil: procure things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you is, have peace with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord. --Romans 12:17-19
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. --John 15:12