Generational Wealth

Generational Wealth

In her 2020 book, Untamed, author Glennon Doyle relays an anecdote about a cheetah, who is raised with a dog, trained as a dog, and in sum, is treated as a dog for spectacle. At one point, the cheetah looks to the horizon, beyond the fence that contains it, and this is where Doyle believes that moment exists, where the cheetah knows it is something more than a dog, but does not have such validation from its handlers. Validation, for a cheetah, is in its DNA. But where do we find our validation, as human beings? Certainly, our DNA speaks volumes of our evolution, collectively and specifically. But DNA is merely numbers or figures, much as a balance sheet for the family tree. How do we validate our humanity then? What evidence, may we then demonstrate such intention as that which forms in our double helix? What stories can we glean from something outside of the scientific arena? People surely are measured in ways that exceed numbers, and this is why the modern interpretation of generational wealth is something I wish to percolate on in this blog. What therefore is generational wealth, in the way that we are coming to relate to this term in the modern era? Is it inherited wealth? Inherited illness? Or, is it something more, that anyone can attain, that is not tangible, but intangible and invaluable. I wager it is the latter and shall endeavor to explain why in this short form blog for our women’s history month.


In the Middle Ages, during the reign of King Henry VI of England, the printing press was invented and disrupted the status quo. Suddenly, the non-landowning populace, the majority of people, were enabled to read printed matter, with words on it. For those, who did not know how to read, it gave them something to aspire to. For those, who did not know how to write, it provided them with a scale to practice. Reading and writing therefore, became popular and possible due to this technology, much like ancestry research is possible due to DNA algorithms today. But for many, who do not have access to such technology, reading and writing remain the norm. And so it was, until technology brought us cameras, and other devices that were able to record, and capture, the human condition, in its most vulnerable place – in the mind of its narrator. For me, that place has existed in my family, for generations, because of the women. They cared to capture our family history, in journals, writings, photographs (including tin types), and artifacts that they dutifully inscribed in perfect script, which is becoming a lost art, due to our digital preferences.


Family heirloom Holy Bible copyright 1871

It was not until my mother, who retired abroad with her French husband, my father, that she handed down to me the responsibility, of helming our family narrative. A narrative, I found, which stretches back nearly 600 years, to the court of King Henry VI of England. My earliest known ancestor, remembered for his service as the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, for which service he earned a knighthood, issued a son who then begat another son and so on, until his name-sake descendant left in the early 17th century as part of the Great Migration of Puritans during the Eleven Years’ Tyranny of King Charles I of England. Puritans were dissatisfied with the Reformation, rejected the Church of England’s tolerance of aspects of Roman Catholicism, advocated greater purity of worship and doctrine, and gave particular focus to reading holy scripture and in particular, the Bible. Put simply, my ancestors arrived in the New World to freely practice their beliefs. And there is where my great grandmother begins our American story, with the arrival of our first American ancestor, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Sudbury, eventually settling in Marlborough. Their values were reflected in their names: Richard turned to Daniel, then Isaac, and Seth, all biblical names, because these families from the Old World were fleeing tyrannical rule, and establishing an ideal that all men were created equal in the eyes of God, as Christians believe.


This value system of the Christian, Protestant faith is well established in our nation’s history, and reflected in our formative documents, such as the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, the great grandson of our first American ancestor, a captain in the Massachusetts Bay Militia, eventually was elected to the Massachusetts State House, which proposed the Bill of Rights, and ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1788. Faith formed the cornerstone of our Republic, and this faith, along with devotion to education, whether reading holy scriptures, or producing writings, letters, journals, and stories to remark on each others’ adventures, are what I treasure most. This information and knowledge, combined with their artifacts, such as the spoon that my ancestor carried as a Union officer on his march with General Sherman to the sea, razing Atlanta to the ground, stomping out the abomination of slavery, forms the generational wealth that I speak of.


Nelson Andress Union officerAll of this generational wealth, I argue, was possible because one was able to read and write, and did so, for their family and future generations. One of my ancestors owned a photography studio at the turn of the twentieth century, so we have tin types and photographs stretching from after the Civil War for 100 years, which along with written words, provide a compelling narrative for our family. To me, this evidence is more valuable than all the money in the world in a Swiss bank account. To me, this is our Generational Wealth, the knowledge and information gleaned from our ancestors. The work that generations of people took, to read, write, and record our American experience. And for me, humbling as it is to realize how little I have done the same for my part, now understand how common society wants us all, cheetah be damned, to think we are dogs. To disregard and indeed, reject our shared history and our family stories, our traditions and religions, as though they should be severed from our national body. Those, who wish to control others, would prefer that you forget about your history, would ask that you neglect reading and writing, when books are no longer valued, and histories vandalized by artificial intelligence in the name of “progress.” But take this one lesson from me and my grandmothers, who dutifully recorded and transmitted our family story, it is because of, and not in spite of, our shared history, that we will take that collective step with certainty and equality into our future as Americans.

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