On a recent visit home to see family and friends after many years away, I sat bewildered at the dinner table on many evenings listening to the dinner-time conversation, vainly trying to work out who was related to whom. “Don’t you remember Uncle Joe? He was always a bit ‘funny’”, and, “What about Aunty Olive who could talk the hind-leg off a donkey”. In bewildered desperation I asked myself: “Who were these people anyway!”

After an extensive bombardment of such discussions one night, my uncle by marriage could see my efforts to understand family history were all in vain. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ve got it all written down in the Family Tree – see, you’re even here too!” I looked carefully to see that I was indeed listed down the bottom of the third page as ‘married to niece’ (!) What I also noticed was that from two people who were married in 1806, there were some 300 or more people, including myself, who were caught up in their web of destiny some 200 years later.

Amongst their descendants were a bewildering array of soldiers, engineers, aviators, housewives, teachers, shopkeepers, and others who had made their mark, mostly in modest ways, upon several far-flung corners of the earth. These two people who married in 1806 had not been particularly notable in any way, yet their decision to marry and pursue quiet but honest lives had a vast influence on their hundreds of descendants. Not only had many of the children followed careers closely akin to their father’s (in this case an agricultural engineer), but most, with the occasional exception, were god-fearing, solid citizens in the mould of their ancestor.

Gazing upon the family tree proved to me how the small decisions of life, both good and bad, can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects through the generations. I’m sure it would be the same if you could look at your own family tree. On our family tree two people had lived ordinary, verging on dull lives 216 years ago, yet the quality of their existence has affected hundreds of then unborn people. A few of these descendants did spectacular things in wars, commerce, and academia – their lives moulded, in part, by the qualities of their ancestors and the everyday decisions they made.

How important then are our decisions and the quality of our family life here and now for future generations who follow. Such ponderings bring to mind the theosophical teachings concerning the intimate intertwining of individual, family, national, and even global karma. Theosophical teachers, primarily Katherine Tingley, have always stressed the sacred trust of family life, and the karmic responsibilities of parenthood, no matter how seemingly modest and unspectacular our circumstances. Any family tree clearly shows how decisions in the here and now can ripple outwards throughout our descendants to affect the lives of our family and even of the nation, for ages hence.