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EDITOR | A conversation about ancestry

It’s simple to take for granted the ability to research one’s heritage, which is something many with slavery in their ancestry can’t easily do

Growing up, my family casually identified with Norwegian heritage, as did many of our neighbors in the upper Midwest. We cracked bad self-effacing Norwegian jokes, made lefse (think potato-based tortilla) and pretended to be hardened against the cold.

In most ways, we were just like many other Americans who proudly celebrate an ancestral national heritage. Our nation was built on immigration and, naturally, people still love to claim their lineage. We fly national flags, hold cultural festivals and have culinary traditions from The Old Country, wherever that may be.

It’s a fun and quirky part of Americana — but not for all.

It’s hard to imagine having no way to trace our ancestry, especially in the information age when a few hours of research can point to the towns our families came from. (Five generations ago my paternal family was in Jevnaker, Norway, and I have distant cousins in The Old Country). For people with slavery in their ancestry, family heritage knowledge often goes just a few generations back and stops in this nation.

Joyce Jones shares an experience with a conversation about ancestry in the cover story this month. She and I had a similar conversation some time ago when I asked her about the importance of the Forgive Us Our Trespasses project. Our nation’s and Church’s sins of slavery and racism are hard to comprehend today, more than 150 years since the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.

But Joyce’s anecdote — and the millions of others like it — struck me a bit personally. It’s easy to take for granted something as seemingly innocuous as ancestry research and the ability to tell the stories of generations of our families.

Consider that when you read the cover story this month, and then consider how our Church might reconcile with the sins of her past.

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