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What Is a Legacy?

Legacy: It comes in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds. It begs to be discovered. It cries to be preserved.

Simply put, a legacy is something passed down from the past by one’s predecessors or ancestors. It can come in the form of money; or it can come in the form of heritage — cultural identity, personal character, purpose of life. It molds our beliefs. It shapes our values. It lends meaning to who we are and what we, in turn, pass on to others.

Until it is forgotten.

It has been argued that many of our society’s ills stem from a loss of connection to our past. Families have grown apart. Entire communities have forgotten the trials and tribulations of their predecessors. Ideals our ancestors once risked their lives to achieve and protect seem to have become distant memories.

Of course, this loss of a connection to our past is not a new phenomena. After all, it was 108 years ago, in 1905, that philosopher George Santayana penned his now famous words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In my own life, my personal journey to discover the past began 33 years ago, at the age of 14. At the time, I was desperate to learn more about my grandfather, who had died 4 years earlier. I missed him terribly; and I longed for an opportunity to speak with him… to hear him tell me in his words why he believed what he did, why he had made the life decisions that he did. I sensed that my grandfather had a legacy waiting for me to piece together; and so, I began my search for the pieces to his “puzzle”.

I am pleased to report that this puzzle has taken shape far beyond anything I imagined at age 14. I have learned an enormous amount of information not only about about my grandfather, but about his own “grandfathers” before him. I feel a connection with my family’s past that, in so many ways, defines and explains who I am today.

Of course, I too will someday be gone. My challenge, therefore, is to preserve the legacy I have discovered and to pass it on to those who will come even after me. For the most part, I do this through writing historical narratives and short stories. My dream is to someday be able to write a novel on the scale of Alex Haley’s “Roots”; but, at the moment, this seems like an overwhelming task.

Over the years, as I have shared some of the family legacy I have learned, many have asked me for advice on how they can research and document their own family’s story. A common refrain I hear is that the idea of simply beginning a family tree seems as overwhelming a task as writing a Roots-like novel is for me. Many have the desire, but few know how to even begin.

It is for these individuals that I have decided to begin this Legacy Blog. Over time, I will share here some of the tips and insights I have learned over the years that other genealogists and family historians might benefit from. And yes, I will share some snippets of my writings that might inspire others to do the same. That, after all, is a part of what legacy is… a passing on of insights and life lessons that inspire thought and add meaning to life… sometimes practical… sometimes poetic… sometimes both.

I will close with some fitting words by well-read author, Erma Bombeck: “The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”

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Suggested format for citations of this article:
Tormey, Michael. “What Is a Legacy?”, “Michael Tormey’s ‘Legacy Blog'”, posted April 24, 2013, (http://legacy-blog.com: accessed [access date]).

 

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