envisioning seven generations

Whenever the question of creating a personal history comes up, people frequently say: Oh, nobody’s interested in hearing about my life. My kids are busy with their jobs and their families and the grandkids are too young to care. Or: My kids have heard all my stories; they don’t need to read about them in a book.

That may all be true—now. But it won’t be true forever.

Haven’t you thought to yourself: I wish I knew more about my mother’s—or grandfather’s—or great aunt’s life. Or, I wish I had asked my parent/grandparent/other significant person about their life in Tennessee/Russia/the Civil Rights movement/the Ford Factory…whatever they were involved in that probably didn’t register in your consciousness when you were younger.

Now think back beyond these people who you actually know. Did you know your grandparents? Great-grandparents? Great-great grandparents? Wouldn’t you love to know more about what their lives were like?

Books will be here when your kids are done raising their children and begin to want to tell their grandchildren about you. They’ll be here when your grandchildren are beginning families of their own and wonder what it was like for you beginning your family. We tell our stories as much for the generations not yet born as for the ones we are with now.


In the table above I made some broad generalizations: that a generation was 25 years and every generation had children on exactly that schedule. But I wanted to work with easy to compute numbers – you can substitute your own information about your particular family and your own speculations about future generations. But anyway you compute it, seven generations covers something like 150 years.

Working backwards from today, that would put us in 1860. The Civil War has not yet happened. The Drake oil well had just been drilled in Pennsylvania, but oil was not yet a prominent fuel. It would be decades before electricity was commonplace. Don’t you think  stories of that generation’s everyday lives would be of interest today?


  1. Posted October 6, 2010 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Your “seven generations” calculation and its look back to 1860 brilliant–a wonderful way to remind us of how soon our own lives will be as incomprehensible to others as the lives of our 1860s ancestors are to us. I also appreciate your emphasis on sharing experiences, not just facts such as geneaology. While the intricacies of our family trees are naturally of interest to those who come after us, it’s really the stories of those lives that speak most powerfully through time. Kudos on a great post!

  2. Posted October 9, 2010 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on such a thought provoking article, Cj and especially the graph. Many people I talk to about this topic only look at the ‘here and now’, rather than taking an extended view. Brava, bella!

  3. cj-madigan
    Posted October 9, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Suzanne. It surprised me to see what a long stretch of time it was.

    Annie, thank you. That has been my experience as well. Imagine what stories of our day to day lives will seem like in 2180.

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