Families come in many forms. In every family, whatever the form, there are layers of stories. Some parts of the story are beautiful; others are not.

This is true of every family everywhere. Trust me on this. You may well believe your family is the messiest and most dysfunctional of them all, but it isn't.

Families are complex because existence is complex. History is complex. Loss and grief and addiction are complex. People do the best they can with the tools and awareness they have at the time, and sometimes the best any of us can do is admittedly pretty terrible. All this to say: every family has broken spots. Every family is an ever-changing work in progress.

The older I get, the more interested I become in knowing more about the historical context of my own ancestors. In my experience, there seems to be a direct correlation between developing an awareness of my family's history and my ability to be more graceful with the other people in the tree.

As you set about your own genealogical adventures, be sure to watch for shimmers of light. Within every family are individuals who sparkle and stories that encourage. Tucked away in the pages of an old scrapbook or in the recesses of great-grandmother's mind, there are inspiring stories worth noting. Stories of resilience, hope, and ingenuity.

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I recently witnessed a shimmer of light sparkling from a branch of my family's tree. I was on a gravel road near Klinger, Iowa, at the time. Justin's family was hosting their big Thanksgiving gathering and my mom, Pam, and I joined the fun.

Fascinatingly, my boyfriend Justin was raised only a few miles from where my mom's mom, Grandma Verona, grew up! After dinner, Justin, his brother (Brian), Mom and I headed out to try and locate Grandma's childhood home. On our brief road trip, we stopped by the congregation in which my grandma was raised. It is a Missouri Synod Lutheran Congregation in rural Klinger.

As we pulled into the church parking lot, the sun was setting and the sky was full of pinks and purples. The landscape was flat and quiet. A few homesteads dotted the landscape. The view felt similar to what it was probably like when Grandma was a young girl.

We stepped into the church. A sense of connectedness permeated my bones. I had never been there, but it felt familiar. The spirits of my ancestors had been nurtured and developed in that place. In the corner of the narthex, we saw a beautiful display of confirmation photos archived since the congregation's beginning. It didn't take us long to track down Grandma's confirmation class. It was a powerful ancestral moment and a profound highlight of the Thanksgiving weekend.

The holidays provide time and space to listen, ask questions, and record stories. It's a season in which to honor all the stories and people that paved the way for the present. The goal isn't to pass judgment on any chapters of your story. It's to listen and to share … to be emboldened by stories of perseverance … to treasure the gift of lessons learned.

Take your time as you travel along the genealogical trail, and don't be afraid to travel on some gravel roads now and then. Sometimes it's the best route home.