By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
When I was 12 years old, I was assigned the task of creating a family tree. I loved this project, as I was able to trace my father’s family back to their arrival in the U.S. from Ireland in 1762 and learn the names of my grandfather’s 16 (that’s not a typo) siblings. It was thrilling to uncover some long-buried family history.
Relatives on both sides continue to dig into our past, and not long ago a cousin forwarded an updated chart that includes my generation and our children. By “our” children, I mean the children of my siblings and cousins, because, as you know, I don’t have and will never have children. What happens to people like me? I flipped back through the pages and was stopped cold with a line that pruned branches in previous generations: “No issue.”
That’s it. End of the line. You either added to the tree or you became insignificant. No mention of creative writing talents, beautiful singing voices, athletic prowess, or successful careers in politics, all attributes that appear in living relatives. There’s no link to my great-grandmother’s wildly popular donut recipe or my great-aunts’ and great-uncles’ great acts of faith. Nothing to indicate which of my ancestors was funny like my dad, compassionate like my aunt, or courageous like my nieces.
As I think about the tree and my place in it, I’m saddened. No, I think “crushed” might be a better description. My siblings are both listed along with their spouses, and their children appear in a fresh new column. My space for the moment is blank, and I wonder how long it will be before a draft appears that includes my very own “No issue” notation.
I refuse to accept that a life can be measured solely by the producing of heirs. I would like to believe I am making worthy contributions to both my extended family and the world at large. Meanwhile, I’m thinking the printout of all the branches will serve as great kindling for a roaring fire.