Saturday, February 18, 2023

Finding Your Roots - My Story

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:3-4

Finding Your Roots

We enjoy watching 'Finding Your Roots' on PBS with Henry Louis Gates Jr.  We quickly get engrossed in the family histories and intrigue that accompanies different celebrities as they discover their ancestry.  I find it easy to wish I had an opportunity to discover my family history with the help of a bunch of experts like Dr. Gates has.  And then I remember, we had something like an episode of Finding Your Roots happen with us more than once!  Here's part 1....

Paul's Birth

My brother and I are Irish twins - 355 days apart - so I remember nothing about his birth.  My parents tell a story though, that when he was born, my Dad's foster Mom looked at him and told my Dad he should really investigate his ancestry.  Why?  My Dad was a foster child.  He became a ward of the government when he was 5 and his mother was no longer considered fit to care for him.  His father wasn't in the picture.  So why would my brother's birth suddenly bring this up?  It seemed my brother looked completely different than me when he was born.  I was fair and blue eyed.  He apparently had almost black hair and dark brown eyes.  Where would this come from?

40 Years Later...

Fast forward 40 years later.  My wife and our kids were visiting my parents, and my Mom asked our daughter what she was learning in school.  Our daughter answered that she was learning about the first nations people of Canada and was keenly interested in them.  She was so engrossed in learning about them that she told my Mom that she wished she could've been born into a first nation.  My Mom smiled and replied, 'Well, you know...' and launched into the story of my brother's birth, what we knew of my Dad's history, and the outside chance that there may be first nations blood in our family line on my Dad's side.  Kornelia was beside herself learning about this, and couldn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.

That evening when I was tucking her into bed she brought it all up again.  'Do you think we have some first nations blood in us, Daddy?' she asked.  'That would be so cool if we did...'  I agreed and helped her say her goodnight prayers.  Leaving her room, I wondered if perhaps, with so much information available on the internet, there might be a chance to find some clue or thread of my Dad's family history.  I decided to give a couple searches a whirl....

Knowing my Dad's full name, his birthdate, and the town in which he was born turned out to be the keys to a successful search.  I think a major God wink had something to do with it was well.  :-)  Within an hour, I had unmistakably discovered my Dad in a family tree line (from his real parents) stretching back to the mid-1700's - with several first nations grandmas!  I was beside myself with excitement and couldn't wait to share this news with my kids and my Dad.

Alex McKenzie

The most colourful character discovered in my Dad's history was a fellow named Alex McKenzie.  He is said to possibly be a relative of the explorer Sir Alexander MacKenzie, but there is no proof of that.  Born near Trios-Rivieres, Quebec, Alex was orphaned at 3 years old and sent back to Scotland to be educated and nurtured by his paternal relatives.  Later, back in Canada, Alex snowshoed across northern Alberta by himself, ending up in Peace River.  He worked there for the Hudsons Bay Company as a fur trader for 27 years.  Retiring from fur trading in 1888, he began farming in the area, and was well known for his stories of adventures and escapades as a fur trader in the north.  He died in 1919 from the Spanish flu at 76 years old.

Alex McKenzie - wearing his traditional fur trader outfit

The history I found even included a picture of Alex McKenzie!  Here he's wearing the typical coureur-de-bois outfit, formerly worn by all Hudson’s Bay Company employees and natives in the northern Alberta country – a blue blanket cloth mackinaw with cream blanket cloth cape and red trimmings, a turban cap to match and black pants with trimmings of Indian design.

Its About Identity

We all seem to have an innate desire that surfaces some time in our lives to understand where and whom we come from.  It can help give direction and confirmation to our own sense of purpose, destiny, and self-worth.  My daughter was ecstatic when she learned more about our family history and our roots here in North America.  She wanted to know as much as possible and find out if our first nations relations were close enough to get us any benefits (they weren't).  When I told my Dad about what I'd found of his family history, he was very reserved.  Understandably so, considering his life experience.  It took him a long time to warm up to the idea that he has a genuine family history with real blood relatives still living in the province.  

God knew that many people would struggle with their personal heritage and ancestry.  Wars, divorce, diseases, and other disasters are brutally efficient in wiping out traces of our histories.  In many cases, we may prefer to forget what we know about those who preceded us.  For each of us, though, no matter the background situation, God offers a new life and a new heritage.  He says:

I can give you a new name if you will accept the gift of my Son.
Along with that is a fantastic, eternal inheritance I've prepared for you.
You will have a place at my table, and a room in my house.
You can call me 'Daddy'

(see John 3:16, John 14:3, Psalms 23, Revelation 2:17, Galatians 4:6)

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