Lessons from the Past

Recently, I came across some interesting old family records. They were genealogies, tracing my mothers’ family name Forney, (“Fahrni” at that time), back to the mid-1600’s in a small village in Switzerland. It mesmerized me to read the names of family from whom I descend; a written record of births, marriages and deaths of people I know little about. There were numerous sets of twins, sadly many infant deaths, a country doctor, a slew of preachers and a fiery senator from Kansas.

It made me consider how swiftly one lifetime goes by. Each of these long-lost relatives woke up each day knowing their life mattered, they were significant and they would do what needed to be done that day. They, like us faced conflicts and misunderstandings, they experienced love and joy, sickness and death. Certainly, there was laughter, jokes, hard work and play in their days. They decided what to prepare for dinner and how to get all the daily tasks accomplished. They, like us, could see only the “here and now”, what was right in front of their noses. The problems they faced were huge, (like ours), the decisions they made were fraught with questions and uncertainty, (as ours are).

I laughed to myself as I wondered who first posed the question, “Shall we move to America?” Whose crazy idea was that and how was it received by parents, relatives and the townspeople? (I can just picture people at the market whispering behind their hands about those “daring Fahrni’s). Because, in 1721, this was no small feat! But someone posed such a question and made the decision to do it! Imagine what was involved in the planning, the timing, and the funding of such a notion? How many hours of discussion and prayer must have been included? Saying goodbye to loved ones they would never see again must have been excruciating.

It is hard to conceive of a distant relative thinking about me, a descendant from 300 years later, let alone them imagining their life having an impact on me, but here is what I’ve learned from their story: These people were not different than we are. As I think back on multiple generations of Forney’s, I’m reminded I can brave an uncertain future, I can overcome daunting loss and grief. If knocked down, I can get back up and start again. Future generations will thank me for it.

Right now, life in 2020 is hard. We face a confusing virus filled with uncertainty. Questions spin asking what will happen with the economy, who is to blame for this calamity and how shall we re-open the country? We worry about our children and financial woes; we fight off health issues and boredom, face loneliness and painful loss. Yes, challenges abound, but instead of allowing these obstacles to consume us what if instead, we place our focus on what we do know and what we can accomplish?

Certainly, no one knows what lies before us, (tomorrow or in 300 years), but we have today. And today is good! Today, we know what we have, and we know what to do, today. So, we make it good. We choose to be grateful; we find the good in the middle of chaos and we treat those around us with care and kindness. And tomorrow, we’ll do it all over again.

Here’s a picture of John Forney, (ca 1816), father of the Senator AG Forney. He has kind eyes but determined at the same time. He’s my great-great-great grandfather, (I think).


  1. Janet, What a great writing about your ancestors. It’s really very interesting to look back to see where they came from.
    Some of your comments made me emotional.
    My daughter has researched both sides of our family. It has been very interesting.
    Good luck on going forward.


  2. Wow! I loved this. Such timely and timeless advice and insights Janet. History fascinates and captures me. I loved that you explored and shared yours with us!! Thank you and welcome back to Texas!!


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