What makes us human?

It is an age old question and one that cannot be given a definitive answer. There are so many characteristics which could be singled out as being the one quality that makes us human.
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It is an age old question and one that cannot be given a definitive answer. There are so many characteristics which could be singled out as being the one quality that makes us human. We have our compassion. We have the ability to learn from our mistakes. We have the strength to believe in hope when there might be none. These qualities do make us human but one which stands out for me is our willingness to preserve what has come before us. The philosopher George Santayana is quoted as saying that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. When you study the various historical events that have happened over the course of time there could be some weight to that argument. Whether it is a building, a document, a language or a way of life there is a determination to keep such things alive in our memory. A determination to preserve them in the best way possible so others can learn from them.

As most of you are well aware by now I have a great love of history, some might say I’m obsessed with the subject but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Since my introduction into the world of genealogy my determination to preserve history has become even greater. I confess I’m like a magpie when it comes to historical objects; whilst some people might see the monetary value, I see the historical, educational and sentimental value. These values I believe are more important.

Much of our history would not be where it is today if it were not for people giving up their free time and volunteer themselves for different projects. Of course we must not forget those who work in the heritage sector. How would we be able to learn about our history otherwise if it were not for these people? Recently I was introduced to a project which aims to, with the help of volunteers, transcribe the burial registers for all of the cemeteries around the Londonderry area. These records will be uploaded onto a database for the public to view free of charge. It would be a travesty if these records were to be lost in, for example, a fire.

Martin Luther King is quoted as saying “we are not the makers of history, we are made by history”. That much is true. The actions of those who have come before us make us who we are today. Even now what we are doing will shape the generations that come after us. Let us not become, as the poem goes, strangers in a box. Let us seize the opportunity to preserve our history while it is staring us in the face and, as another saying goes, sooner rather than later.

 

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