It all started a couple of years ago when a distant cousin did some research on a certain branch of my maternal family tree. Unlike many other families out there, my extended family has kept very good records of our history and previous generations so I was well aware of past relatives a few generations back. What I was totally unprepared for was to "meet" ancestors I was completely unaware of.
As my mom and I dug deeper into the links my cousin had provided us with, I was amazed to discover traits and family traditions that have made me who I am today...things I was totally surprised to find out. I discovered that I am descended from British ancestors via New England who were people of great influence, people who were active in their community and were standard setters for those around them. I found out that they married well in that they chose spouses of great character and influence, thus perpetuating a line of family greatness. I was also blown away by the obvious vein of Christian devotion that permeated the family tree, passing down a fear and love of God through the generations. Oddly enough, perhaps the biggest surprise was the fact that God had used my ancestors in big ways at the most crucial times and places in public life.
Through my research, I met people like Theophilus Eaton - the first Governor of New Haven, Connecticut and a former agent to King Charles I of England and former president of the Massachusetts Bay Co. I discovered that I am distantly related by a marriage in the line in the late 1600s to Ann Yale - grandmother of Elihu Yale for whom Yale University is named. I learned about Sir John Wright of Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, England whose manor house, Kelvedon Hall, still stands today. He was also a member of Parliament. His son also was friends with one of England's noted composers, William Byrd, who was a neighbor of the family's.
Continuing on, I came to learn about men like Elizur Goodrich who served in President John Adams' administration and whose two sons married good girls: one married the daughter of Oliver Wolcott, signer of the Declaration of Independence; another married the daughter of Noah Webster, helping to edit Noah's famous dictionary after Noah died. I discovered Capt. John Thomas Tiffany who, along with his seven other brothers, fought in the War for Independence. I was able to view the document showing that he had been hand-selected by Gen. George Washington to join Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne on the front lines for the capture of Stony Point on July 15, 1779.
I also found out that my family name, Goodrich - out of which all these branches come - can be traced back to Godrick, architect of Goodrich Castle, which remains one of the finest Norman conquest castles still in existence in modern day England.
Truly, as I came to know more about these amazing individuals, I reflected on the verse in Psalm 16:6 which says,
"The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea,
I have a goodly heritage."
I also noticed how learning about my heritage changed me as a person and helped explain to me who I am and where I come from. There was a sense of belonging that I had never felt before. History had come alive and it wasn't just about random dates and dead people - these were my people - and for the first time, I saw how I fit in to the big scheme of God's plan for humanity.
It did occur to me, however, that some people do not have such a "goodly heritage" and that their line is one big tragic error or event after another. They can't relate to having heroes in their family because the line has been a vicious cycle of failure for generations. Perhaps it was addiction, or crime, or fatherlessness.
But I did realize, too, that regardless of what our physical ancestry looks like, when we are brought into God's family, we are given a new family. We are brought into the line of "goodly heritage" that our biological line may or may not have bequeathed to us. We are given the sense of belonging that all of us need...the feeling of becoming part of something bigger. We are now counted among the greatest company imaginable: that of individuals like Apostle Paul, King David, and yes...Jesus Christ Himself. We are granted a new identity through salvation in the Savior that breaks the negative cycles and allows for a fresh start in grace. No longer are we considered random human beings with no purpose on the earth but God counts us as His children, and we are united to His family forever. To me, that is truly a lineage worth celebrating!