by Jack Le Moine
When you were born, how old was your mother? Let’s take an average age of 25 years. Your grandmother birthed your mother 25 years before that and your great grandmother birthed her 25 years before that. You have had two grandmothers but only one of them birthed your mother. Everyone has only one birth mother. Four generations of these mothers of mothers brings you back one century.
A century ago Woodrow Wilson was President; the Russian Revolution began; World War I was going strong. To you and me these were history; to your great-great grandmother these were current events. If all of those women were still alive you could fit them inside your car.
Four more generations would take us back two centuries. Monroe was President; Napoleon lived in exile; Japan was closed to the world. The eight women would fit comfortably in a pew in your church.
Four more generations, then four more, soon were back to the year 1500 (rounding off here). Columbus was still discovering America, Europe was transitioning from the Medieval Era, the Reformation was years in the future. Just twenty of your ancestors was all it takes to get to a woman who experienced this as current events. In the year 1500 there lived one woman who was specific to you. Twenty women and you could fit them into fit them all around a conference table.
Just another twenty generations and we’re back to the year 1000. Europe was emerging from the Dark Age, the Vikings were discovering America, The Byzantine Empire was still a great power. The forty women would make a players roster at a NFL football team.
Forty more and we’re at the time of Christ. Caesar Augustus ruled in Rome and the eighty women could fit into a lecture hall. You could sit on stage and one by one they could tell you how they related to the larger world when they were alive. However they received the news the reports was news to them, not history.
Eighty more and we have arrived at 160 individual women, each of whom must have lived and gave birth so that you could have been you. 160 people may have made up your class in your high school. The oldest woman of this group takes all the way back past Rome, past Greece, past Persia, to 1000 BC. Chances are that that woman did not experience civilization, could not read, write, or do basic arithmetic because the vast majority of the human race lived in societies that did not have these things at all.
Just as you are one specific human being, in 1000 BC there was one woman who was specific to you. She lived. You know she existed even though you know nothing else about her. But you can know something about the world she lived in. This is the job of the historian.