Richard Stride Commentary: Knowing Your Past Gives More Meaning to Your Present


Have you ever been curious about your ancestral roots? 

The science of genealogy can provide answers by tracing your DNA.

Maya Angelou, American memoirist, poet and civil rights activist, said in an interview in 2011 with the Arizona Republic, “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you came from, you don’t know where you are going.” 

She was an amazing individual. Indeed, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 by President Barack Obama. Her writing is worth reading.

However, for this column, I am interested in what she said during her interview in 2011. What she said intrigued me and got me thinking. Why is it important for us to know where we came from? What does knowing our ancestral history do for us?

For one thing, it gives a sense of purpose, identity and connection with our past. By knowing more about your forebears, the places they came from and the places they lived, it increases your sense of identification, which in turn increases your self esteem.

Understanding your unique place in the world provides you with identity and purpose. In the mental health profession, we know one’s identity plays an essential role in our health and wellbeing.

When you explore your roots, you will more than likely be astonished at what you find.

I certainly was.

As a side benefit you become a happier, more content and self-confident person. For example, you may find that your great-great-grandfather fought in the United States’ Civil War. His struggles and the ideals he fought for may be very similar to yours. You may find yourself saying, “So that’s why I feel so passionate about the rights of my fellow human beings.”

It may also embolden you to seek your goals, or new goals, to work harder, to carry through with your plans.

You may also learn new things about yourself. Knowing who you are and where you came from gives you a renewed sense of purpose. The same blood that sustained your ancestors through their trials and tribulations, flows through you. That’s profound, don’t you think? 

When you reflect on your life and those in your immediate family, what does it teach you about yourself? 

The fact is, you have DNA from each of your parents, and you have DNA from gene pools you never imagined. You learn about the places where your forebears lived and the cultures they belonged to. It is an amazing experience to discover you are linked to many different peoples and places.

The experience you have when you know who you are cannot be summed up in mere words. The stories about your great aunts, uncles or distant cousins can be a source of encouragement that may lead you to being a better human being. It may even inspire you to do great things. Knowing your past gives meaning to your present in so many ways.

My wife Connie and I did a DNA test a while back and the results were very interesting and eye opening. Connie’s results indicate that she is 65 percent Indigenous Americas-Mexico (dad and mom) and 23 percent Spain (mom’s side) and 6 percent Basque (mom and dad). We are also exploring her ancestry to tribes in South Texas as well. My results indicate that I am 41 percent Scottish (mom and dad), 36 percent English (mome and dad) and 20 percent Sweden and Denmark (dad’s side) and 3 percent Irish (dad’s side). I found out that my dad’s grandfather came to the United States on a ship from Sweden in 1890. I found out on my mother’s side her family came to the United States in 1607 from England. On mom's side I have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. Dad’s side has an ancestor who fought in the American Civil War, for the Union.

Explore your history. It will be fun and it might make you a happier person.   


Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at