I've known for a long time that learning more about history can help me in my genealogical research. Learning about world wars, flu epidemics, immigration routes, and such has really helped me understand my family's history and make sense of it. However, I recently had the reverse happen - studying my genealogy has helped me learn more about history.
A couple weeks ago I found several dozen newspaper mentions of my great-grandmother's sister Grace and her second husband, Ed Cote (I can't call them articles as most of the occurrences of the names are tiny one-paragraph blurbs about who visited who over the weekend). I downloaded all the newspaper pages, but didn't have a way at the time of marking where on the page the Cotes were mentioned. Thus, I've been spending most of my genealogy time lately going back through these newspapers and highlighting the sections where my family names pop up. It's been pretty fun to look at some of the other articles in the papers while I hunt for Ed and Grace's names, seeing various advertisements and announcements of the local clubs, churches, etc.
One article caught my eye in particular, titled "Special Event Given at Lima." It was about an Americanism program given at the Masonic Hall in Lima, put on by the Masons and Eastern Stars (another fraternal society). They had a Reverend Beard give an opening and closing prayer, with patriotic songs sung by a quartet, and some speeches or talks given, and refreshments served afterwards. What was different about this event, though, is it said at the end of meeting, the audience recited the "American Creed" and sang "God Bless America." The only creed I knew offhand was the Nicene Creed, so this interested me. A quick Google search revealed that the American Creed was written by William Tyler Page in 1917, as an entry in a patriotic contest. It's only 100 words, so here's the full text of the creed:
I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.
I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.
I was amazed! A very short, but powerful, statement of belief in the Constitution and the Republic, which was apparently formally adopted by the House of Representatives in 1919 or so. And apparently the public at large was at least aware of it some 45 years later, reciting it at that patriotic rally in a small town in Montana, perhaps even from memory. And I'd never heard of it until stumbling upon a mention of it in a newspaper from 1964. I even went onto Facebook and asked a few of my more politically involved friends if they'd heard of the American Creed, and they all said no.
It made me realize - as time goes on, it's not just a family's history that can be obscured and lost. A nation's history, unless carefully preserved and passed on, can be lost just as easily. It makes me feel such a weight of responsibility to pass on to my kids, not just their family heritage, but their country's history and legacy as well. Let's hope I'm up to the task, on both counts.