You are here:

What’s In Your Tree? By Mae Catherine Godhigh

Photo by Tom Pokarney, WEEK TV Creative Services, 2021 Women in Leadership

The other day, while sitting in my living room, an ubiquitous commercial aired on the television. At the end of the commercial, the question was asked, what’s in your wallet? I pondered that question and resumed my genealogy research. Ironically, that simple question led to the birth of this article.

As the “gift” of September signals the end of summer with an array of splendid colors, I decided to bless our readers with the gift of legacy. Legacy is a gift that will outlive you. It is your family testament, and it will remain throughout the ages. Whether you realize it or not, your ancestors count on you to remember them.

In this article, we will look at the comparison of natural trees and our family trees. The Oak, Pine, Palm and Sequoia trees have their own distinct beauty and characteristics. Then there is the apple tree and the popular saying; the apple doesn’t fall far from its tree. Whether you subscribe to this epigram or not, there is a great amount of truth attached to it.

Like natural trees, every family has a tree, roots and a story. All you have to do is take a peep and begin your journey. My family research led me to the discovery of a little bit of everything. Sam Kean once stated, “Genes are like a story, and DNA is the language that story is written in.”

While building my tree, I was able to observe my enslaved relatives, their white owners, the secrets, the sassy, the seedy, the scandals, rebellion, entrepreneurs, bootleggers, preachers, orators, politicians, artists and educators. What produced these individuals was the trying of their faith and the perseverance of a people who came before us. Before I was born, my family tree stood tall with people who were regal and who had integrity. While growing up, I would hear them say, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. It’s in my DNA.

Later in life, I would learn this truth was foundational and instrumental in my growth process. The lives they lived and the legacy they left behind was one of nobility, peace and productivity.

Have you ever wondered where your features, mannerisms, or gifts come from? Oftentimes, you don’t have to look very far. I invite you to just look into your family tree. For instance, I was born with oratory skills because my father was a natural orator. Sometimes, children can pick up an instrument and automatically begin to play, only to discover Uncle Joe was a musician who played the same instrument.

Here are just a few trees with their symbolism. The Oak Tree is a symbol of wisdom, strength and endurance. The Pine Tree is a symbol of peace. The Palm Tree is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life. The Sequoia Tree is a symbol of wellness, safety, longevity, wisdom and communication.

My favorite tree is the Baobab tree. It is often called the “tree of life.” This tree grows in 32 African countries. It is a symbol of life and positivity. This tree is remarkable because it grows and thrives in landscapes where little else can thrive.

What impressed me about this tree is that its bark is “fire-resistant.” As I study family photos, traditions and oral stories, I am increasingly convinced our family likens to the baobab tree. I see their beauty, struggles, victories and diversity in this tree and in me.

I have been blessed to trace eight generations of beautiful women of character in my family. Much like the Baobab tree, they too were fire-resistant. They survived the fires of enslavement, the fires of Jim Crow, the fires of last hired; first fired, the fires of red-lining, the fires of segregation and integration, and the traumatic fires of no human rights.

I am convinced that without their strong faith in God, they would have been destroyed, and I would not be here today to author this article. Here are some of the nuggets they planted along our family’s yellow brick road. Come along and follow our yellow brick road with me.

Nugget #1 -Honor and respect your elders, for they know the way.

Nugget #2 -Fashion may come and go, but a lady never goes out of style.

Nugget #3 -Cherish your family‘s name and don’t bring shame upon it.

Nugget #4 -Education and experience is the way up.

Nugget #5 -Your purpose in life is to lift the bar for the next generation.

Nugget #6 – Lead by example and always do the best you can. There is no such thing as perfection, so don’t waste your time.

Nugget #7 – Live your life in such a way that when you leave this earthly realm, your name will remain on the tongues of those who loved and admired you.

Nugget #8 – Reach for the stars, for you are one with them.

Dear Readers, these nuggets may not be the solution for today’s problems, but they certainly provided a solid rock foundation for this fourth-generation free brown skin girl. I covet our rich legacy of a determined people who rose, again and again, to walk in integrity. Across the sea they came; a fire-resistant people – my people. God bless my ancestors for their amazing DNA!