(The Forest of Dean, by Jan Richings, England)
It is interesting and most important important to know not only where your family came from but who they might have been. The story of our life includes the stories of many who have gone before and many who are yet to come. The Russian writer Tolstoy once said that to understand any historical event one must understand the lives of every person in that event, in a sense making history more like biography. Tolstoy’s thought may or may not be true, but it does point out that when it comes to your family history it does make a difference knowing something about your ancestors. Unfortunately in this day of instant communications we sometimes don’t take the long view, thinking reality is the last news report.
For most of my life I looked at my family as the descendants of my grandfather, G. Campbell Morgan, of England, one of the great preachers of the 20th Century. Perhaps that is why my father and his sons, of which I was one of three, often thought to carry on the family heritage we needed to become ministers. That was unfair to us, I believe. I am now a teacher, one brother a banker, and the other a writer. Ironically, two of us also became ministers and one chair of a seminary board. Each of us has wrestled with the ministry or gone into it. I can’t speak for the other two, but for myself I regret not become a teacher when I graduated from college, but, as my wife said to me, no matter what I have done I have always been teaching and learning.
But there was another side to our family history I knew nothing about for decades until with some of my family we visited a cousin in England (the artist whose picture is shown here), who shared stories about Morgans I knew little about, including, yes, another minister, Rev. George Morgan, but also a longer heritage of tradesmen and workers in what is called the Forest of Dean, an area marked by the Rivers Severn and Wye as far as Gloucester in the East and Ross on Wye to the North. Visiting the towns of Chepstow and Monmouth in Wales where some of my family lived in past centuries, I felt a sense of having been there before, perhaps an illusion but perhaps an almost genetic memory.
I take comfort in the new realization that I am not alone but part of a wider history that included people who worked in shops or mines and lived in small English or Welsh villages or towns. In some ways I feel more aligned with them than the ministerial heritage. They represent the vast number of us who inhabit this blue planet circling a star in a third rate galaxy somewhere in a universe we cannot really comprehend. We go about our days in the same patterns of life common to everyone else–making a living and a life as best we can in a universe that sometimes feels hostile to our deepest hopes. But we survive, the remarkable stories of our lives bearing witness to the ebb and flow of life itself.