Many Americans do not know family history. Sometimes, we depend on information resources that depict our history in a skewed fashion. Someone else’s opinion becomes our fact.

I suggest this. Check family history and get ready for surprises. We all come from different places and along the way we have become the linchpin of freedom. And “always expect the unexpected.”

Family history provides a gauge to measure what comes out of other information resources. It tempers the messaging and helps us reach the real truth. (Here’s just one example of expecting the unexpected. Did you know, according to an article on science.org, “… a significant percentage of African-Americans, European Americans, and Latinos carry ancestry from outside their self-identified ethnicity. The average African-American genome, for example, is nearly a quarter European, and almost 4% of European Americans carry African ancestry.”) 57% of the American population is in some way tied to Europe.

In recent years I have diminished the importance of my family history. Recent events have rekindled my memory.

Here’s a piece of what I mean.

In the late 1950s my parents moved from Canada to the United States. We settled in a big city in the Midwest.

I didn’t know English. French was the only language in my rucksack. The second thing on a plate was becoming an American citizen. I was eager. I was proud. But I didn’t know the process. And nothing was in French. There is always a way.

My parents gave me over to the nuns at Saint Cecilia parochial school. With their brand of motivation, the good sisters enabled me to speak English in short order. They did this without an immersion program. It was a miracle.

After I became a naturalized American citizen, it was time to go to the next step, high school. I ended up in a junior seminary.

The priests who taught me came from the archdiocese of Warsaw, Poland. Many of my classmates came from Eastern Europe. Some parents survived the Nazi death camps. One of my teachers lived through the Katyn massacre. He hid under the bodies of his murdered countrymen. (From April to May 1940, the Russians killed 22,000 Polish military officers and academics. According to the historian Gerhard Weinberg, Stalin wanted to deprive a potential future Polish military of a large portion of its talent.) As is apparent today, Stalin failed!

After graduation, I decided to take my life in a different direction. I joined the military. While serving I developed a friendship with the young combat engineer officer. We are friends to this day. Like me, he became a citizen. But his road was bumpier than mine. He immigrated from Budapest, Hungary. He and his parents escaped the 1956 invasion of Hungary and the “Russian boot.” My friend still has images of his dead countrymen hanging from lamp posts in the middle of Budapest.

What’s going on right now in Europe has my former Polish classmates on alert and my Hungarian friend aware of what can happen if aggression goes unchecked. Family history gives them truth.

My message — understand who you are and where you are from! Look at what’s going on around us. Deal with what you can influence and support. Support what is important. Know your source of information. Gauge that information with dependable sources.

Stay tuned and pay attention.

Bob Ayotte is a Chanhassen resident and a former Chanhassen city councilor. Ayotte, a retired colonel, served 30 years in the military, later working for 20 years as a government employee in the Department of the Army.

Events