12/29/2011 12:56 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2012

Digging For Your Roots, Anyone?

Roots. We all have them. I have some pretty colorful ones. Generals. Admirals. Supreme Court Justices. William Tecumseh Sherman. John Knox. Fighters, all. Especially the last one who became the most wanted man by the Vatican. He carried a double-handled sword and, as a Reformationist, started the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

It has been a dream to go to Scotland to research him for as long as I can remember. Maybe by sharing my experience, it can help you decide whether to do some of your own roots tracing, digging and discovering. John Knox was the ancestor of my mother, Jackie Knox, who became Jackie Knox Rust upon marrying my father, William Evans Rust, Jr., and they named by brother Charles Knox Rust.

I was already on a cruise through the Mediterranean, so I thought that after the pleasure of cruising, I could enjoy the thrill of research in some libraries in a country where I knew no one. Little did I know that this former country of strangers would soon become a country of friends who seemed to be enamored with my ancestor -- evidenced in all that they said and did culturally and historically while they embraced me as a welcome guest. Fabulous, fun, feisty folks!

I stayed in Snug Castle (and it was just that) on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh just down the street from the John Knox house where you could sit at his table in a cloak and hat much the same as he once wore and write at his desk and explore his home as he once would have done perhaps with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Inside, there is a storytelling theater and a healthy restaurant, which made it one of the most compelling historical sites I have seen. There was a plaque on the wall that said that in one hour, John Knox could energize people with the power of more than 500 trumpets! I thought that this was a great quote about a supposedly great man. There was a marble statue of him, a bronze bust and, across the street, an imposing bronze statue 16 feet high.

When I realized that his ideas of the day were thoroughly revolutionary and that he had written and spoken prolifically, I had to feel something. And I admit, there was excitement, for John Knox spoke about education and the importance of educating the masses and the power that it would bring them. And considering, quite by coincidence, that my own literacy work has been with Power for Kids, which I founded, I wondered whether there might not be something in the genes.

Scotland is proud of their fighting spirit and the John Knox House played up the double-edged sword that he carried and how the one-time widowed Knox re-married and had two children at a time when it was frowned upon for priests to marry. He founded a Protestant church, called Presbyterianism, and in it, priests became ministers and could marry and convey their messages in English instead of Latin.

He convinced Mary Queen of Scots to put the whole of Scotland under this new way so that people could have accessibility. He continued to write and would sometimes preach for two straight weeks. They called him "The Thundering Scot" and he was deemed the greatest orator ever. (Well, it would take quite a bit of charisma to hold an audience for two weeks!)

The more I found out about this ancestor of mine, the more I was mesmerized by his life. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what he looked like in detail, such as the color of his eyes and hair and whether he had oatmeal for breakfast. Clearly, there were keys to his charisma. I felt compelled to understand this fascinating man who, on any day, could drop in on the queen for the equivalent of a cup of coffee.

For one thing, he was passionate about his subject matter. Anyone who could speak for 14 days would have to be. And he was brilliant and could address any point with logic and passion, an excellent combination. He had the longest beard I've ever seen depicted in bronze or marble -- I don't know what that had to do with anything other than it was very long. Maybe that gave him a look of authority? I don't know. There are many scholars in Scotland well versed on him with whom I have not yet met.

It's a magical experience to find a piece of your DNA puzzle, and I would recommend it even if it is a horse thief relation you come upon -- it's still a colorful character and you can dig deeper and find out the circumstances behind the situation. You will have great and good fun in the process. I'm not suggesting everyone have an ancestor who changed the course of a country's history. But it just might change the course of yours!