Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Evolution of Family

Family is an adaptable institution. Or rather, we're adaptable to it's changing and evolving place in our lives.

As a genealogist, I make it my purpose to dive headfirst into my own family's history and the histories of many others...and yet, I don't often think about the varying roles family has played in my own life.

As my family has evolved, morphed, broken and formed anew, so too has my appreciation for family in all its beautiful diversity.

When I was a child...

When I was a child, I loved like a child. When I was a child, my understanding of family was narrow and limited. But as I've grown, so has my family! So humor me for a minute, as I quote St. Paul:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
When I was a child, I limited family to my family of four. When I became a man, I embraced the family that God put in my life.

When I was a child growing up in Chesterfield, Virginia in the 90s, family meant my dad, my mom, my sister, and me. And then there was Maggie Antionette, our beautiful and devoted Rottweiler. We weren't a perfect family, but we always knew to say "I love you," and to give each other a hug and a kiss every day. These were the only people I knew to say "I love you" to, the only people I knew were unequivocally my family. My imperfect family. But, my family nonetheless.

First cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents...those all seemed like extended family. I don't know if it was just our odd family dynamic, but I rarely saw them. My parents' first cousins lived minutes away, but I never met them until I was an adult. When I was a child, my family was a family of four but then it became a mosaic.

Family Mosaic

No mosaic would be beautiful without broken stones. And so it was for what became my mosaic of a family. Between divorce, remarriages, the births of nieces and a nephew, my family has grown through breaks and reformation. The family of four became a family of...well, quite a bit more! And, I'm all the richer for it.

I went from being the baby of the family to a big brother a week before my 15th birthday! I went from Sam to Uncle Sam a year and a half later! Not much later, I gained two more sisters, and a big brother. In the precise world of genealogy, where we know the difference between a first cousin twice removed and a second cousin once removed, we also have to know when not to distinguish between step, full, and half. They're my siblings. They're my parents. They're family.

This big kid is the baby I'm holding earlier!

The Body of Christ

When I became an Orthodox Christian in 2005, I couldn't have imagined just how much the Church would become another family. One big fat tight-knit world-wide family.

Whether I was in Egypt or Palestine, Lebanon or Greece, India or Kenya, I was at home. Where nationality raised walls, Christ tore them down. When I seemed a tourist, a simple "Christ is risen!" after Pascha (Orthodox Easter) or making the sign of the cross would make me a brother. 

And then I went to seminary!

There's nothing quite like an Orthodox seminary to make brothers out of a group of strangers. We prayed together, we studied together, we argued, we laughed together, we became family.

The Church has also given me sacramental family. I may not have a son of my own, but I have my adorable godson Teddy! He came out of the waters of baptism and into my arms - SUCH a powerful moment for me! I'm also the godfather/sponsor to Maria, John, Caleb, and Justin. And now I'm the koumbaros (wedding sponsor) to Thomas and Elizabeth. My Church family is growing, y'all!

As my family grows around me, I've also been discovering how big my family has been all along.

Long Lost Family

It wasn't until I dove into family history that I found just how big my family has always been.

The further I research my family, the more cousins I add to my tree, the further back I take a family line, I see that my family is gigantic! And with each passing day, I get new DNA-proven cousins, too! Some of these DNA cousins I would have never found without the help of science. Many are adoptees, or the descendants of children of unknown parentage. And yet others DNA has connected to me when their research hadn't gotten far back enough to discover our shared ancestor.

Plus, there's the genealogy family that gathers at local, state, and international conferences each year. And the online community that connects through genealogy companies, FamilySearch, blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Not all of us are biological family, but we're all family in our shared love for family, for stories, and for connection.


From my childhood conception of family, to my mosaic family, to my church family, to my new-found family discovered in genealogy research, I've grown to discover I have quite the large family.

How has your perception of family changed during your life? Has genealogy taught you to view family differently?

This post was inspired by the week 11 prompt "Large Family" of the year-long series that I'm participating in with Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

My ancestors - and your ancestors - deserve the best researcher, the most passionate story-teller, and the dignity of being remembered. So let's keep encountering our ancestors through family history and remembering the past made present today!

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