Monday, July 16, 2007

A Tree Without Roots

Alice C. Linsley

There is an African saying that "a people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots."

This saying is understood differently depending on one's culture. When Americans hear the word "history" we think of the academic study of past events chronologically arranged and recounted in a linear fashion.  We don't tend to think in cycles, as did the ancients, and we rarely consider that for most people of the world history is what happened to their ancestors. For them, history involves genealogies, especially those of the ruling families.

Many of my ancestors are listed in the book Connecticut Linsleys: Six Johns. Using this book, I've traced my ancestors to North Branford, Connecticut and from there, to Nottingham, England. Recently I communicated with the Rector of the parish in Nottingham where at least one Linsley is buried. Ironically, her name was Alice Linsley. The parish is Holy Trinity Lenton (Nottingham) and Fr. Martin Kirkbride was kind to send me this photo of a bronze plaque in memory of Alice Stickley Linsley, beloved wife of John Thomas Linsley. It is mounted on a wall in his church.

Alex Haley's experience of tracing his roots back to a village in West Africa speaks volumes about the African propensity to tell history through genealogy. This propensity among Abraham's Kushite ancestors lead to the preservation of the ruler-priest lists in Genesis 4, 5 and elsewhere in the Old Testament. Using these lists, we are able to reconstruct the kinship pattern of Abraham and his ancestors. That is the primary work of this blog.

The Genesis genealogical information is a treasure trove of information, ready to be opened by those who take the material seriously. If I had assumed that the genealogical record of the Connecticut Linsleys was unreliable I wouldn't have proceeded to discover a certain relative, John Thomas Linsley of Recourt, Notts. Likewise, if we assume that the Genesis genealogies are not reliable we will not discover our family heritage as children of Abraham by faith. We will be like "a tree without roots."


Anam Cara said...

Since I come from Charleston, SC, I know a lot about genealogy and research. My mother always called us the Chinese of America since we eat rice and worship our ancestors. : )

Genealogy doesn't tell you who you will be. It doesn't even necessarily tell who you are since ancestors can be so far removed that they have no influence on you. But I find them to be fascinating, none the less. And especially so when I find a name that I love. Or a name that gives insight into how the people thought day-to-day.

What must the family have been like who named their daughter “Thankful” Hayes? Was there a special miracle to her birth? Had there been a drought and now the crops were plentiful again?

The genealogies in the Bible are so important because they help us realize who Jesus is. He is the seed promised to Eve. He was born, like us, of a woman who had ancestors just like we did. Some of those ancestors were illustrious. We are proud to say we are descended from a Revolutionary War hero. Some are horrid. An old joke goes that if you find a horse thief in your history, you just report that the ancestor in question died of a sudden neck injury. Jesus had good and bad in His background.

Your Alice cannot be an ancestor, rather a cousin, probably of some distance, if her death date is accurately recorded. All in all, she is still “kin.” And another amazing thing about genealogies is that we realize, that if we could take them all back far enough, we would find that we are all “kin.” If it is true that only Noah and his family survived the flood, we are all descended from Noah. No matter what skin tone, no matter how the eyes slant, how large or small boned you may be. We are all “kin”!

Then, not only are we related through the flesh to one another, those of us who are willing are also adopted into the Father’s spiritual family where we become heirs with Jesus to His kingdom! How much more we should desire that our relatives in the flesh join us in our new family which is far better than any earthly family we might have. This is why we evangelize – because we desire the best for our “kin.”

Alice C. Linsley said...

I fully agree that the final importance of the biblical genealogies is to point us to Jesus Christ. God doesn't want us to miss the Great Gift!

The genealogical information is helpful in other ways also, to clarify some events, such as why Aaron, Mirian and Korah resisted Moses' authority (a topic that I will post on soon.)

The Alice Stickley Linsley that I found married into the Linsley family. Her husband would have been cousin to my father.

As to your last paragraph, Anam Cara, all I can say is "amen!"

hopellen said...

Another "Alice Linsley"...impossible! Speaking as a sister in genetic pool and spiritual school. May we Linsley women and the many that may follow us be as strong in faith and ministry as you are, Sister.

Anonymous said...

It's not really an African saying it was said by an influential African man - Marcus Garvey.

Alice Linsley said...

Yes, of course. I had in mind the Tree of Life motif which originated in Africa. See