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Saving History

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Saving Private Ryan is one of my favorite movies. Tom Hanks stars as Army Ranger Captain John Miller, and Matt Damon plays a paratrooper, Private First Class James Frances Ryan. If you have not seen the movie, you need to. I can not say enough great things about this film. It is based on true events inspired by the Niland brothers, set during the Battle of Normandy in World War II. Private Ryan is the last surviving brother of four, the other three having been killed in action.

There are actually quite a few incidents of brothers being killed in action during wartime prior to and following World War II. It is important for family lines to be preserved and the family name to continue on, making these incidents all the more tragic for the family members left behind. There is one particular scene in the movie, Saving Private Ryan, that I want to hone in on.

Captain Miller and Private Ryan are sitting together and talking as if they are just hanging out on any given Sunday, maybe enjoying a backyard BBQ. But in reality they are surrounded by war and chaos, debris covering and ground around them. Ryan reveals in a moment of vulnerability, “I can’t see my brother’s faces, and I’ve been trying man. I can’t see their faces at all. Is that ever happen to you?”

Captain Miller doesn’t seem surprised by the revelation at all. He simply responds, “You gotta think of a context.”

Ryan doesn’t grasp what that means, so Miller continues to explain it—giving viewers a real sense of what it must be like, a solder separated from their loved ones in a time of war. “Well you don’t just think of their faces, you think about something specific, something you’ve done together. When I want to think of home, I think of something specific. I think of my hammock in the back yard, my wife pruning the rose bushes in a pair of my old work gloves.”

In this scene, Private Ryan and Captain Miller go from nameless soldiers in a field, a deserted town, or on a list somewhere—to real people that other’s can connect with and empathize with. We see that behind the helmet and uniform, Captain Miller is a school-teacher, a coach, and a husband. Private Ryan isn’t just a name, he’s a son, a brother, and a farm boy. It’s the most light-hearted scene in the entire film and yet it still tugs at our heart strings. We want him to be reunited with his family at home, to survive the war.

This is where family history brings genealogy alive. They overlap but remain separate at the same time. Family history levels up, no longer just names, dates and places—but faces and memories! It seeks to place ancestors lives into context of the era they lived in. It is the seeking of family stories and memories that bring us laughter, joy, and even tears.

Family history looks at the entire family unit in each generation, the Ryan mother and father, is a generation that has suffered tremendous loss. The four Ryan brothers are the next generation, and fortunately, only one of the four lived to carry on the Ryan name. The history tells about when, where, and how members of the family lived, how they worked, and even how they played and traveled.

Every family has their own sets of triumphs, things they are proud of. They also have their own set of tragedies that have occurred and all of the experiences that they live through, events that take place, have their own context within a large circle. That larger circle encompasses many things, such as, social environment’s, economic health, and the historical world view that they lived in.

Tell me friends, have you seen Saving Private Ryan? What are your thoughts about the movie, are you seeing it in a different light? Share with me your comments! Do you have your own family stories—those stories that make you smile or bring a tear to your eye? Share with us the family history that makes you unique! And don’t forget to Live Your Lore