Home: Ancestry and Roots
We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the
attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in
every cell of our bodies. ~Shirley Abbott
Distinguished ancestors shed a powerful light on their descendants, and forbid
the concealment either of their merits or of their demerits.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus
Our ancestors ... possessed a right, which nature has given to all men, of
departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them.
Our ancestors ... were laborers, not lawyers.
...then he slept with his ancestors...
Bible: Hebrew, 1 Kings 14:20.
Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.
Bible: Hebrew, Proverbs 22:28
The reverence for the deeds of our ancestors is a treacherous sentiment. Their
merit was not to reverence the old, but to honor the present moment; and we
falsely make them excuses of the very habit which they hated and defied.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our
history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we
do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.
Man is physically as well as metaphysically a thing of shreds and patches,
borrowed unequally from good and bad ancestors, and a misfit from the start.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The equilibrium you admire in me is an unstable one, difficult to maintain. My
inner life was split early between the call of the Ancestors and the call of
Europe, between the exigencies of black-African culture and those of modern
life. Leopold Senghor
The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth
defending at all hazards; . . . . We have received them as a fair inheritance
from our worthy ancestors . . . [they] transmitted them to us with care and
diligence. Samuel Adams
Whereas our ancestors (not of choice) were the first successful cultivators of
the wilds of America, we their descendants feel ourselves entitled to
participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil.
All good things were at one time bad things; every original sin has developed
into an original virtue. Friedrich Nietzsche
How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black
drop which he drew from his father’s or mother’s life? Ralph Waldo Emerson
Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably
Arboreal.Robert Louis Stevenson
Even though fathers, grandparents, siblings, memories of ancestors are important
agents of socialization, our society focuses on the attributes and
characteristics of mothers and teachers and gives them the ultimate
responsibility for the child’s life chances. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot
In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if
there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight
ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece
of music which his life is. Ralph Waldo Emerson
...I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people.
Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the
ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.
Writing is conscience, scruple, and the farming of our ancestors.
If you think that nobility consists of having sixteen ancestors rather than
merit, great Prince, then you may—and you may also praise or condemn me.
Not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but also clouds
their view of their descendants and isolates them from their contemporaries.
Each man is for ever thrown back on himself alone, and there is danger that he
may be shut up in the solitude of his own heart. Alexis de Tocqueville
Our ancestors are very good kind of folks; but they are the last people I should
choose to have a visiting acquaintance with. Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Clay. It’s rain, dead leaves, dust, all my dead ancestors. Stones that have been
ground into sand. Mud. The whole cycle of life and death. Martine Vermeulen
What passes for identity in America is a series of myths about one’s heroic
ancestors. It’s astounding to me, for example, that so many people really seem
to believe that the country was founded by a band of heroes who wanted to be
free. That happens not to be true. What happened was that some people left
Europe because they couldn’t stay there any longer and had to go someplace else
to make it. They were hungry, they were poor, they were convicts. James Baldwin
I will never accept that I got a free ride. It wasn’t free at all. My ancestors
were brought here against their will. They were made to work and help build the
country. I worked in the cotton fields from the age of seven. I worked in the
laundry for twenty- three years. I worked for the national organization for nine
years. I just retired from city government after twelve-and-a- half years.
Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes—our ancestors.
It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and
arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton
People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their
ancestors. Edmund Burke
I have no doubt that it was a principle they fought for, as much as our
ancestors, and not to avoid a three-penny tax on their tea; and the results of
this battle will be as important and memorable to those whom it concerns as
those of the battle of Bunker Hill, at least. Henry David Thoreau
A poem is like a person. Though it has a family tree, it is important not
because of its ancestors but because of its individuality. The poem, like any
human being, is something more than its most complete analysis. Like any human
being, it gives a sense of unified individuality which no summary of its
qualities can reproduce; and at the same time a sense of variety which is beyond
satisfactory final analysis. Donald Stauffer (
Tradition! We scarcely know the word anymore. We are afraid to be either proud
of our ancestors or ashamed of them. We scorn nobility in name and in fact. We
cling to a bourgeois mediocrity which would make it appear we are all Americans,
made in the image and likeness of George Washington. Dorothy Day
As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The
beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have
fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to
be images of ourselves. Daniel J. Boorstin
Almost always tradition is nothing but a record and a machine-made imitation of
the habits that our ancestors created. The average conservative is a slave to
the most incidental and trivial part of his forefathers’ glory—to the archaic
formula which happened to express their genius or the eighteenth-century
contrivance by which for a time it was served. Walter Lippmann
A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his
ancestors; for the expression of all his history, and his wants. Ralph Waldo
He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which
neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand
that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the
mouth of the LORD. Bible: Hebrew, Deuteronomy 8:3-8.
It must be confessed that the Pilgrims possessed but few of the qualities of the
modern pioneer. They were not the ancestors of the American backwoodsmen. They
did not go at once into the woods with their axes. They were a family and
church, and were more anxious to keep together, though it were on the sand, than
to colonize a New World.... It is true they were busy at first about their
building, and were hindered in that by much foul weather; but a party of
emigrants to California or Oregon, with no less work on their hands,—and more
hostile Indians,—would do as much exploring the first afternoon, and the Sieur
de Champlain would have sought an interview with the savages, and examined the
country as far as the Connecticut, and made a map of it, before Billington had
climbed his tree.... Nevertheless, the Pilgrims were pioneers, and the ancestors
of pioneers, in a far grander enterprise. Henry David Thoreau
I have often felt as though I had inherited all the defiance and all the
passions with which our ancestors defended their Temple and could gladly
sacrifice my life for one great moment in history. And at the same time I always
felt so helpless and incapable of expressing these ardent passions even by a
word or a poem. Sigmund Freud
These battles sound incredible to us. I think that posterity will doubt if such
things ever were,—if our bold ancestors who settled this land were not
struggling rather with the forest shadows, and not with a copper-colored race of
men. They were vapors, fever and ague of the unsettled woods. Now, only a few
arrowheads are turned up by the plow. In the Pelasgic, the Etruscan, or the
British story, there is nothing so shadowy and unreal. Henry David Thoreau
All his successors gone before him have done ’t; and all his ancestors that come
after him may. William Shakespeare
Rights! There are no rights whatever without corresponding duties. Look at the
history of the growth of our constitution, and you will see that our ancestors
never upon any occasion stated, as a ground for claiming any of their
privileges, an abstract right inherent in themselves; you will nowhere in our
parliamentary records find the miserable sophism of the Rights of Man.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A spirit of innovation is generally the result of a selfish temper and confined
views. People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to
their ancestors. Edmund Burke
The blood weeps from my heart when I do shape,
In forms imaginary, th’ unguided days
And rotten times that you shall look upon
When I am sleeping with my ancestors.
... no human being is master of his fate, and ... we are all motivated far more
than we care to admit by characteristics inherited from our ancestors which
individual experiences of childhood can modify, repress, or enhance, but cannot
erase. Agnes E. Meyer
Thou shalt make thy house
The temple of a nation’s vows.
Spirits of a higher strain
Who sought thee once shall seek again.
I detected many a god
Forth already on the road,
Ancestors of beauty come
In thy breast to make a home.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests,
and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his
ancestors. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first who was king was a fortunate soldier:
Who serves his country well has no need of ancestors.
François Marie Arouet de Voltaire
We all bear traces of the starvation struggle which for so long made up the life
of the race. Our very organism holds memories and glimpses of that long life of
our ancestors which still goes on among so many of our contemporaries. Nothing
so deadens the sympathies and shrivels the power of enjoyment as the persistent
keeping away from the great opportunities for helpfulness and a continual
ignoring of the starvation struggle which makes up the life of at least half the
race. To shut one’s self away from that half of the race life is to shut one’s
self away from the most vital part of it; it is to live out but half the
humanity to which we have been born heir.
The improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of
man’s existence: as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from
those of our ancestors. Henry David Thoreau
She returned home, to the empty and dark room, and there, lonely and suffering,
uttered a prayer to the God whom she had long since abandoned, yet who remained
the God of her ancestors, praying that the spirit of goodness and mercy,
omnipresent and all-pervading, would soften the hearts of those who decided
Sasha’s fate. Anatoly Rybakov...On a mother seeking the whereabouts of her son
during the Stalinist era in the USSR, quoted in NY Times 14 Mar 87
The Indian attitude toward the land was expressed by a Crow named Curly: “The
soil you see is not ordinary soil—it is the dust of the blood, the flesh, and
the bones of our ancestors. You will have to dig down to find Nature’s earth,
for the upper portion is Crow, my blood and my dead. I do not want to give it
up.” For the State of Montana, U.S. public relief program. Montana: A State
Guide Book (The WPA Guide to Montana),
I long to hear that you have declared an independancy [sic]—and by the way in
the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I
desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them
than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the
Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care
and attention is not paid to the Laidies [sic] we are determined to foment a
Rebelion [sic], and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have
no voice, or Representation.
Abigail Adams (1744–1818), U.S. matriarch, wife and mother of American
Presidents. In a letter reprinted in The Feminist Papers, part 1, by Alice S.
In a letter dated March 31, 1776 and written from Braintree, MA to her husband,
John Adams, during the during the Revolutionary War, shortly after the British
occupation of Boston was lifted. Source: The Columbia World of Quotations. 1996.
But we still remember ... above all, the cool, free aspect of the wild apple
trees, generously proffering their fruit to us, though still green and
crude,—the hard, round, glossy fruit, which, if not ripe, still was not poison,
but New English too, brought hither, its ancestors, by ours once. These gentler
trees imparted a half-civilized and twilight aspect to the otherwise barbarian
land. Henry David Thoreau
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you
who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for
you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what
their ancestors did to the false prophets. Bible: New Testament, Luke 6:24-26.
Three years ago, also, just a week after the authorities of Boston assembled to
carry back a perfectly innocent man, and one whom they knew to be innocent, into
slavery, the inhabitants of Concord caused the bells to be rung and the cannons
to be fired, to celebrate their liberty,—and the courage and love of liberty of
their ancestors who fought at the bridge. As if those three millions had fought
for the right to be free themselves, but to hold in slavery three million
others. Nowadays, men wear a fool’s cap, and call it a liberty-cap. I do not
know but there are some who, if they were tied to a whipping-post, and could but
get one hand free, would use it to ring the bells and fire the cannons to
celebrate their liberty. So some of my townsmen took the liberty to ring and
fire. That was the extent of their freedom; and when the sound of the bells died
away, their liberty died away also; when the powder was all expended, their
liberty went off with the smoke.
The joke could be no broader if the inmates of the prisons were used to
subscribe for all the powder to be used in such salutes, and hire the jailers to
do the firing and ringing for them, while they enjoyed it through the grating.
Henry David Thoreau
It is remarkable what a value is still put upon wood even in this age and in
this new country, a value more permanent and universal than that of gold. After
all our discoveries and inventions no man will go by a pile of wood. It is as
precious to us as it was to our Saxon and Norman ancestors. If they made their
bows of it, we make our gun-stocks of it. Henry David Thoreau
I stand here tonight to say that we have never known defeat; we have never been
vanquished. We have not always reached the goal toward which we have striven,
but in the hour of our greatest disappointment we could always point to our
battlefield and say: “There we fought our good fight, there we defended the
principles for which our ancestors and yours laid down their lives; there is our
battlefield for justice, equality and freedom. Where is yours?”
Anna Howard Shaw
As a guy develops and practices his masculinity, he is accompanied by an
invisible male chorus of all the other guys, who hiss or cheer as he attempts to
approximate the masculine ideal, who push him to sacrifice more of his humanity
for the sake of his masculinity, and who ridicule him when he holds back. The
chorus is made up of all the guy’s comrades and rivals, his buddies and bosses,
his male ancestors and his male cultural heroes—and above all, his father, who
may have been a real person in his life, or may have existed only as the myth of
the man who got away. Frank Pittman
I know that the White House was designed by [James] Hoban, a noted
Irish-American architect, and I have no doubt that he believed by incorporating
several features of the Dublin style he would make it more homelike for any
president of Irish descent. It was a long wait, but I appreciate his efforts.
John F Kennedy, 35th US President,Addressing the Irish Parliament in Dublin,
assembled in a Georgian mansion that was the seat of Kennedy’s maternal
ancestors, NY Times 28 Jun 63, Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, compiled by
James B. Simpson.
I am sure my bones would not rest in an English grave, or my clay mix with the
earth of that country. I believe the thought would drive me mad on my death-bed
could I suppose that any of my friends would be base enough to convey my carcass
back to her soil. I would not even feed her worms if I could help it. George
Gordon Noel Byron
Some men by ancestry are only the shadow of a mighty name. Etheridge Knight
Our forebears labored without wages. They made cotton "king." And yet out of a
bottomless vitality, they continued to thrive and develop.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Heritage is Scriptures . . . which have become absorbed into our blood.
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep/ Thy heritage, thou eye among the
When kids don't learn about their own heritage in school, they just don't care
about school . . . But you won't see it in the history books unless we get the
power to write our own histoty and tell our story ourselves.
You must begin to define yourself. You must begin to define your Black heritage.
H. Rap Brown
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of
generations and nations. Henry David Thoreau
Fame is the inheritance not of the dead, but of the living. It is we who look
back with lofty pride to the great names of antiquity.
I felt there's a wealth in Jewish tradition, a great inheritance. I'd be a jerk
not to take advantage of it.
I have also seen children successfully surmounting the effects of an evil
inheritance. That is due to purity being an inherent attribute of the soul.
My fondest hope is that "Roots" may start black, white, brown, red, yellow
people digging back for their own roots. Man, that would make me feel 90 feet
We who with songs beguile your pilgrimage/ And swear that Beauty lives though
lilies die,/ We poets of the proud old lineage/ Who sing to find your hearts, we
know not why, -/ What shall we tell you? Tales, marvellous tales/ Of ships and
stars . . .
James Elroy Flecker
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