Discovering your Heritage

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Once I mentioned that I am related to the great John Bright of England. He served for many years in the British Parliament and was remembered for his coming to the Queen’s rescue. A colleague, Mr. Ayrton, also a member of Parliament, decided to criticize the queen’s absence from her public duties during her long period of mourning her husband’s death. After he finished his remarks at the meeting held in support of the working classes, John Bright rose to give the following speech, “I am not accustomed to stand up in defense of those who are possessors of crowns, but I could not sit and hear that observation without a sensation of wonder and of pain. I think there has been, by many persons, a great injustice done the Queen in reference to her desolate and widowed position, and I venture to say this, that a woman, be she Queen of a great realm or the wife of one of your laboring men, who can keep alive in her heart a great sorrow for the lost object of her life and affection is not at all likely to be wanting in a great and generous sympathy for you.” Rising to their feet, the audience shook the roof with cheering and then singing “God Save the Queen.” Bright’s oratory was eloquent and served him well that day. Charles Moore who wrote a 1901 version of Queen Victoria’s life noted that he didn’t know whether the queen ever heard this speech but when John Bright lost his wife, a kind message came from Windsor Castle expressing the queen’s sympathy.

Even if I didn’t have proof of my lineage dating back to John Bright, anyone would recognize the similarity between us. We both champion the underdog. We don’t believe in attacking someone who is already down. And certainly we both believe in public service. Remember, heritage accounts for over 40 percent of who we are. If I were transplanted back into history alongside my Bright ancestor I probably would feel very comfortable sitting in the gallery in Parliament and listening to his pronouncements which were often supporting those less fortunate. (But as a woman I would not have been allowed to sit in that Parliament. I am glad that I was born just after women were allowed to vote in this country.)

Those Bright pioneers who braved the seas to travel from England in order to start a new life in this country were fed up with not being able to achieve on the basis of their intelligence and skill. They left a culture in which only being born to royalty or into a family of high standing could assure success in the world. I know, it still helps to know someone in a position of power to help you up the ladder but at least royal blood is no longer a requisite of success.

You would think that a family as prolific as the Bright family would not need any additional members. But there is always room for one more at the table, as they say. As anyone knows who has been through a search for family connections it doesn’t always end up with everyone in that family wanting to accept someone who claims they are a long lost relative. As some people would say, “just let sleeping dogs lie.” But to the one seeking knowledge about heritage there is no going back once the door to genealogy is opened. If someone contacted me and claimed to be a relative of mine I would say,

“I am an oldie and am willing to share my wisdom with anyone who wants to visit with me.” That’s what my role in life is these days. So if you don’t have younger relatives in your life, find some young friends or neighbors and share your great stories. Okay?

Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at gnkunkel@comcast.net or 206-935-8663.

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