What kind of ancestor do you want to be?

This powerful question comes from Rom Mokak,  Australia’s first Indigenous Policy Evaluation Commissioner.  It is a question that the Yawuru people ask when a major decision is to be made for their community.

When I first heard this question, it made me think of what kind of steward I am for not just my children’s future but for their children and their children and so on. I specifically think of how my actions impact the health of the planet and society that they will inherit.

Then I read about a recent study that made me think about this question in a whole new light.

A group of economic historians Princeton, Stanford and the University of California, Davis studied economic mobility rates of immigrants compared to native-born Americans over the course of the last 140 years.

Their fascinating research found that children of immigrants rise from poverty at substantially higher rates than native-born Americans.  You can see here which country’s emigrants performed better than others.

In my own case, it appears that the average father who emigrated from Scotland around the time of my ancestors was likely to see his son rise out of poverty to sit firmly in the middle class.  Scots in general appeared to do better than other immigrant groups and significantly better than native-born Americans.

The theories, as to why, range from artificially depressed initial incomes of the fathers to higher mobility rates based largely on where they chose to settle. 

For example, people who settled near larger cities, specifically port cities, tended to do better (regardless of where they were from). Many Scots, including the McKinnon’s moved to Boston, the largest port city in the country at that time.

I wonder what John McKinnon thought when he became the first in my family to leave his homeland to pursue a better life.

How did he know where to go?  Did he know that his selection of place would make a generational difference?  Did he go to follow a friend, a specific opportunity, or a hunch?

The strains of daily life force us to face the questions right in front of us.

These two stories show that taking the time to look back can reveal different questions on how best to move forward.

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