This is the grandmother of my great-grandmother – Hannah Pattee Wood, circa 1880. Her father fought in the American Revolution, and, looking at this photo, taken almost a century after his service, I think about all the changes she saw in her life. I also wonder how much the stories she may have heard from her father affected her outlook later in life.
I think about that a lot now as we watch Russia absorb Crimea – as it has at other times in each region’s history. I wonder if those people on the ground feel more Russian than Ukrainian or more Crimean than Russian and what they actually want. I wonder how much of their identity is wrapped up in stories of Revolutions or wars that they heard at their grandparents’ feet.
Our politicians love to warn us that ignoring the lessons of history will be dooming us to repeat it (Personally, I think this class is still in session). Right now, I’m chasing my family’s history and wondering how this new great geopolitical game will affect the next generation of family histories. I love studying family history (not just mine) because it’s the story of the people who lived with the consequences of kings and conquerers – the Johns and Peters and Catherines-the-Greats.
The Great ones will always exist in one form or another, and I’m getting to a point where I think no amount of study will prevent them from trying to drag us into one conflict or another. And that’s when the stories of how the people in their wake lived matter more. It’s when I remember how they lived then is as much a part of who we are now as are the Greats and the games that they played.