#450 – Dick Bernard: Heritage (Part 1 of 4)

UPDATE September 7, 2013: This post has evolved into time into a series of posts directly related to Heritage.
Directly related post are here. Also related is a post on Tin Type photographs accessible here. Also see Part 3 here, and Part 4.
Also at Nov 3, 2011; Dec 22, 2011; Apr 7, 2012; Sep 1, 2013.
This post was primarily intended for two groups of people I did not meet until October 8 and October 11. At both gatherings we explored Family Heritage, and what follows is the briefest of synopses of what what was done to encourage people to think of their own heritage in some organized fashion. (At the end of this segment is an update added after the October 11 segment.)
Here’s a standard definition of the word heritage:
her’it-age, n. [OFr. heritage, an inheritance, from heriter: LL. hereditare, to inherit, from L. hereditas, inheritance, from heres, an heir.]
1. property that is or can be inherited.
2 (a) something handed down from ones ancestors or the past, as a characteristic a culture, tradition, etc.; (b) the rights, burdens, or status resulting from being born in a certain time or place; birthright.
3. in the Bible, (a) the chosen people of God; Israelites; (b) the Christian church.
As being lords over God’s heritage. – 1 Pet. v. 3.

For over 30 years I’ve been delving into my family history. It began as an unintended excursion into the past, but once started I found it impossible to quit. So far I’ve put together five documents easily totaling 1500 pages which would qualify as ‘history’, though they are of interest only to a certain audience within my families of origin.
Succinctly, every one of us has our own idea of what our history is, and what is important within that history. Family History, like U.S. or any other history, is only part of the story. The parts hidden from us by our forebears, and hidden by ourselves from our descendants are the real history, perhaps never to be formalized, but nonetheless crucial to who we are.
At the upcoming workshops, I’ve decided to have the participants become the faculty and hopefully begin to get into a vigorous discussion of elements of their own heritage. At the workshop, they’ll get some handouts, and I’ll tell them of this blog post, and they can review things if they wish.
I plan to do a “flash card” kind of exercise, asking the participants to note the first thing that comes to mind, as it relates to any one of their parents or grandparents, when the following words are stated. (The words are strictly in random order, and will be further recited in random order. At the end of the exercise, everyone will get a copy of the words.)
The basic question: How would you respond (first impression) about your heritage when the following word is presented?
1. Graveyard (example: do you have any particular memory of a burial or a graveyard image – burial service, monument, lack of monument, etc?)
2. Artifact (is there some item, some thing, that comes to mind?)
3. Food/Recipe (similar to #2, and so on, for the other words)
4. Photo
5. Dance
6. Religion
7. Dress
8. Community
9. Language, if other than English
10. War/Peace
11. Nationality (self-designation)
12. Relationships with other nationalities
13. Country where born.
14. Immigrant/native born?
15. Music
16. Occupation/Work
17. Pets
18. Gardening/Food Preparation
19. Play/Recreation
20. Tradition
21. Dates/Places
22. Holidays
23. Sayings/Folk Wisdom
24. Significant Accomplishment
25. Inherited mannerisms/traits
26. Family Secrets
27. Letters
28. Books
29. Stories
30. Housing
31. Medical/Disease
32. Education
33. Games/Hobbies
34. Special Talents
35. Transportation
36. Tools/Utensils/Kitchen
37. Art
38. Homesteading
39. Names, naming systems (i.e. Lars son, etc)
40. Water matters
41. Mens Roles
42. Womens Roles
43. Skills, gifts, talents (i.e. sewing, mechanical knowledge)
We usually think of inheritance when we think of heritage: what was left to us in money or property sense.
Really, the far greater component of heritage is what came with us as our birthright. Definition #2 for heritage covers this waterfront well, I think.
I know there are far more than 43 elements to heritage, and I am guessing that a few more of these elements will be added at either or both of the upcoming workshops. If so, they’ll be added to the list.

Some access points to my own idea of family history:
German-American and French-Canadian
assorted references at this blog. See tabs at right for Family History and Quebec/French-Canadian. A directly related link on Tin Type photographs is here.
UPDATE October 12, 2011:
The sessions on October 8 (very abbreviated in length) and October 11 were well attended and interesting.
The post session comments are in #452, posted October 12, 2011.
The handouts at the sessions were:
General thought starters on Heritage: HeritageThoughtStarters001
Quebec Marriage Contract from the year 1730: Quebec Marriage Cont001
As I developed my notion of what Heritage is, the following illustration evolved (which I didn’t have time to expand on at either workshop). (See illustration at right.)

The Box with the arrows represents the multiple “frames” people use when discussing Family History in any of its aspects. There are many boxes, as noted in the long (and incomplete) list above. But each of us have pieces in all of these frames.
The essence of the conversation on Heritage was this: we are, every one of us, the very definition of “Heritage” (note definition 2(a), especially the word “etc.”) We can perhaps modify the impact of our heritage by decisions* or choices we make through life, but the essentials of who we are came with our birth. If we are fortunate, we have something of a balance between B and A. “B” might be likened to a Balloon, which gives us the buoyancy to soar above our base; “A” might be likened to an Anchor, which can have positive or negative connotations. Either the anchor or the balloon can create problems for us.
For someone interested in Family History but daunted by the task, the key piece of advice, after 30 years, is to start where you are. Perhaps you only know tiny fragments. Write them down.
The letters in the description are:
K (Keep items that might be relevant to you or someone else in the future)
L (Label things like photos and newspaper articles, including date and newspaper, etc. It is amazing how often this is overlooked.)
R (Record things as soon as possible after they happen – it is amazing how quickly memories get foggy)
A (Ask, ask, ask…history comes available to people who inquire.)
There are infinite additions to this writing.
Add your own chapters.
* – There is an interesting and very simple distinction between the words Decide and Choose. The root word for “decide” is the same root word as for other words of obvious meaning: suicide, homicide, insecticide…. When one makes a decision, they tend to kill off other options. Choice implies more possibilities.
It’s your choice!

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