My Corner Online


What Heritage Means to Me

My whole life it seems that I’ve had a natural magnetism to heritage. I’ve always been interested in looking at photos-of-old, belongings of my grandparents, learning about what my ancestors did in the past, genealogy, and taking photos to preserve memories. Heritage means a lot to me and always has. So, I decided to reflect upon what heritage really means to me and why I am so drawn to it.

Essentially, heritage is those who came before me and helped shape who I am. Some of those who came before me I never knew, but a part of them were passed down through others who knew them. I hope to pass onto future generations the things that I have learned in order that my ancestors may live on through memories of generations gone.

However, in my reflection upon heritage, this is what I’ve come to realize. It doesn’t matter what my ancestors have done if I have no knowledge of what they’ve done. Heritage is not applicable unless a person has knowledge of it and adopts it as one’s own. This is why I’ve always been so drawn to it; I want to know. I want to look at old photos and see how my face, hands, feet, and body structure looks like my ancestors’ face, hands, feet, and body structure. I want to look at old photos to see how my ancestors decorated their homes so I can pick up on those styles. I want to look at photos to see what activities they enjoyed so I can enjoy them too. I want to know them and learn from them so I can adopt their values.

There is a common phrase, “You come from good stock.” It’s an odd phrase as it makes me think of animals. However, I believe when someone is told this phrase, it is to remind them to reflect on who they have come from in order to adopt their ways. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got great parents and grandparents, now be like them!” Heritage is a choice. Of course, on the flip side, a good or bad reputation of your family before you can affect how others treat you and shape who you are. Am I worthy of my heritage?

There is a difference between inheritance and heritage. I have inherited physical characteristics. I had no choice in them. God gave them to me. Heritage is a choice. I have also inherited tangible items. Although inheritance is not heritage, the things that I have inherited have also contributed to shape who I am. But, I cannot inherit knowledge as it has to be preserved, learned, and passed down from generation to generation. It takes knowledge to form heritage.

In the same way, I want to leave my heritage. This is why I love digital scrapbooking. Every page I do is a heritage page because it leaves behind a part of who I am or a part of who the subject of my layout is for future generations. For instance, a Christmas page will show our family traditions. However, my page will never be applicable unless a future generation reads it and realizes the tradition and adopts it as one’s own. In other words, by my leaving behind scrapbook pages, I am leaving behind the knowledge for others to glean and adopt as their own in the future.

Heritage often jumps a generation. There are things I picked up from my grandparents that my parents didn’t adopt.

Of course, the most common way for heritage to be passed down is by word or example, but that has several flaws. With families becoming busier and busier, there is less quality time to communicate. Also, I’m learning all too quickly how my mind looses its memory too soon. There are even some things from my boys’ births that I thought I would never forget, but now cannot remember. That is why it has become so important for me to journal on my layouts.

So, who am I? This sounds like something teens go through, trying to learn who they are and being unstable about self until they learn who they are. Maybe this is a lifelong process. The more I learn about those who came before me, the more I adopt and change who I am. Heritage is constantly active for a lifetime. In a way, my journaling and scrapping is a story of who I am and how I got to where I am for others to learn from. What roads have I traveled down and what roads have my ancestors traveled down that give me the knowledge and wisdom to courageously make my choices to travel down the new roads ahead of me?

Do I know why I believe the way I believe and can I explain to others who I am? I don’t want to do what I do just because I was raised that way; I want to have knowledge and wisdom to be able to have reason for adopting heritage. I want to know why my ancestors did things a certain way so I can make the choice to adopt it as my own or not.

Everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging. Having knowledge and adopting heritage as my own gives me a sense of commonality and grounds me to the past. Participating in traditions makes me feel like I’m at home, even if I’m away from home, and keeps me tied to my family.

There are many areas to reflect upon to learn who I am.

A. What did my ancestors believe? What were their values in religion and politics? What does it mean to me to be my religion? Were my ancestors conservative in their values or liberal? Did they have any ethnic values? What did they take a stand on? What were their morals? What were their ideals, principles, and standards? What legacy of philosophical thought did they leave behind? What life lessons did they want me to know? What attitudes did they have toward certain things? What do I consider to be their character? Am I carrying on their legacy of values?

B. How did my ancestors behave? How did they handle anger? Were they stubborn? Did they have honor or courage? How did they react in certain situations? Did they have any physical traits such as moving their hands a lot when they talked? Are there strange things I do that can be explained by knowing my ancestors? Does my family carry a “good name” and how did they behave to earn it?

C. What was my ancestors’ structure of living? What did they do on a daily basis? Do I have the same methods of cleaning as they did? What daily life habits do I carry on? Do I cook breakfast for my husband every morning while he reads the paper (as seen in so many old sitcoms)? Do I have traditions around family meals the same as those before me? What social position or class did they live in that shaped their structure of living? Did they have any hobbies? Did they play any musical instruments? Did they enjoy dancing? Do I?

D. What was my ancestors’ national heritage? Of course, the ancestors I have personally known are American, but reaching far back in the line, what national heritage were they before they came to America and what cultural heritage from those countries is still carried on by me? Were my ancestors “proud of their heritage,” as the phrase is often heard, or did they want to disclaim their heritage? This is common with Indian heritage, not because they were not proud that they were Indian, but because society degraded them if they openly claimed it. Also, part of my national heritage is my ancestors’ belief in the military which fights for their country. Did they have courage to stand up for a change? Were they drafted? Were they patriotic? What war stories did they tell and what can I learn from them? Were my ancestors Union or Confederate during the civil war and how did that affect who they were? Do you have Southern or Northern heritage? Different parts of America have different traditions that they have passed down. What does it mean to me to be an “American” or a “German” or “Irish?”

E. What was my ancestors’ physical heritage? I have short, wide feet. Which ancestor did I get that from? Whose nose do I have? What did they like to eat? Do I have the same taste buds? What recipes were handed down? What kind of music did they like? Do I like the same? Not only are physical traits such as body style genetically handed down, but so are likes and dislikes?

F. What was my ancestors’ tangible heritage? Are their any significant buildings in their history? Did they build their own house? Do I like the same style house as them? Are there any historic places that meant a lot to them and why? Did they leave behind any diaries or journaling? Did they keep any certain items of property and what was so special about it that they kept it? Maybe I will adopt that significance as my own. This is what makes an object a heirloom. Take photos of these items and scrapbook them simply to record who they belonged to and why they were important to that person.

G. What was my ancestors’ natural heritage? Did my ancestors settle in an area of America because it was similar to back home? Did they love a certain kind of countryside, or mountains, or city? Did they have a special place they loved to be? Did they garden? Did they enjoy the outdoors?

H. What stories did my ancestors’ leave behind? Maybe I can find a life lesson, personality trait, or something else that I can glean as my own through these stories. If not, they are simply something that should be preserved to enjoy.

I scrapbook as a way to learn who I am, decide what road I should travel down, and preserve heritage to build the future. I have a goal to reflect on all the above categories as I scrap pages with photos-of-old and current photos, making sure to journal to preserve the knowledge to continue on the heritage. I don’t want photos to remain a stranger in a box; journaling is so important. I am making a book called “My Nature Book” with my thoughts. I have a goal to make a book called “Mom’s Lessons” to write down all those things which I’ve repeated to my children over and over during the years. My only hope is that I will live long enough to get these things preserved before they are gone forever.




Copyright Cheryl Rutledge-Brennecke
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