The power of exploring your ancestry

why you should explore your ancestry

 

Many have joked that I could easily be a walking commercial for Ancestry.com  and it’s totally true. What began as a curiosity to see if I could find a link to my paternal great-grandfather who, fresh off the boat from Sweden, fathered my grandmother out of wedlock, very quickly became my favorite hobby besides reading.

And now it’s something I prescribe frequently for clients in the throes of existential crises. Why?

“You can’t be happy if you’ve lost your roots.” — Thich Nhat Hanh (The Art of Power)

power of ancestral work

My grandmother Phyllis Ann as an infant with unwed mother, Hazel Ruth Olson in 1933

 

POWER OF CONNECTIVITY

For many of us, knowing where we came from can provide a deep sense of community. Suddenly we feel connected to something greater than ourselves in perhaps ways we hadn’t thought about before. This has been especially heightened in my clients who are estranged from family members or who have been adopted.

There’s this verse in the Christian book of Hebrews (12:1) that reminds us that “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” and while the religious connotation has often emphasized dead saints who have paved the way for us with their faith, I have always enjoyed a broader implication of passed over loved ones as well.

Imagine being supported and encouraged by the hundreds or even thousands of ancestors in your family tree, each wishing you well in your endeavors. Regardless of your spiritual worldview, the theme of legacy is a universal existential concern. The idea that your life is a continuation of their blood, sweat, and tears as your children’s and their children’s after them will be of you, is both comforting and empowering.

There is no death. Our soul/ spirit/ conscious awareness leaves the body and rejoins Universal energy, however you conceptualize that; the great cloud of witnesses.

 

EMBRACING YOUR ODDITIES

On the other hand, seldom do I come across a human being who hasn’t in one form or another, felt like the odd ball in the family. Maybe you never quite got down with your parents’ proclivities for a particular religion or political affiliation. Maybe you are the only one with dark hair in a sea of blondes. Or maybe when it came to handing out talents like athleticism, artistic skill, or intelligence, it’s always seemed like the Universe accidentally skipped over you.

Here’s the thing though – while you may not match the people on your immediate branch very well, I would be shocked if you didn’t find plenty of branches further back whose members could easily be fascinating soul buddies or at the very least, fodder for great drinking tales! Seeing their pictures and reading records documenting their brazen feats can be quite healing to say the least.

Case in point? Just a few examples from my own tree:

  • A woman killed during the infamous witch trials because she looked at a baby “oddly” and it later died. (Only after this woman’s death in prison did the baby’s nanny come forward and admit that she had left it unattended in the elements for a bit while she did who knows what …although we can probably guess. 😉 Too late for my dearly departed ancestor though.) 

 

  • Wealthy plantation owners who are now most often remembered by their favorite gastronomic choices – road kill (why??)

 

  • The first plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts when their loved one fell off his horse and died on an allegedly unsafe bridge

 

  • Religious zeal – from an Irish medical missionary for the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Turkey to founding members of Brigham Young’s Latter-Day Saints in Utah to traditionalist Pilgrims publishing impassioned pamphlets protesting the loose morals of the rebel settlers in New England, to a few who were jailed for trying to even leave the Church of England in the first place

 

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder of the acclaimed Little House on the Prairie books and later TV series (my 2nd cousin, 5x removed)

 

  • Two U.S. Presidents – Grover Cleveland & Franklin Delano Roosevelt (distant cousins)

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867 – 1957)

 

DISCOVERING GRIT

Having a bad day or even rough season? Reading about what your ancestors went through just to carve out a life for themselves can provide great perspective.

One of my aunts several generations back put her 12 and 14 year old children unaccompanied on a boat bound for America. They were told to find their relatives in MN. Like whaa???? My kids are now that age and I can’t even imagine sending them to a store in the next town over by themselves for crying out loud. And they have super schmancy iPhones with GPS enabled on them!

Can you picture being that mother not even knowing if your children will survive the dangerous boat trip, let alone traverse thousands of miles inland once they reach the shore on the East Coast? Can you imagine being the kids having nothing but written letters and hopefully a few dollars and instructions to: a) get you across the sea, b) find someone who speaks your language (Swedish) when you arrive in the U.S., and c) somehow find your aunt and uncle in a state far, far away? *mind blown*

And if you ARE “American,” then chances are extremely high that your ancestors were either immigrants, indentured servants, or slaves – all three options implying incredible GRIT to both survive and overcome against the odds.

 

Peebles Coat of Arms

Peebles Scottish coat of arms (my maiden name) & motto: Contra Nando Incrementum – “Increase by swimming against (the stream)” …hello #trapezoid!

 

SPIRITUALITY

Earlier I alluded to one possible avenue of using genealogical exploration in your spiritual practices – connecting with passed over ancestors through visualization etc. Another avenue that has been particularly profound for me has been through broadening my horizons by trying on their lenses.

As a self-identified Omnist (one who seeks and is open to spiritual truths from many religions), searching the kaleidoscope of transcendent paths walked by those before me has added a beautiful richness and subtle nuances to my own daily practices. Using the results of my DNA test as a starting point, I began with an exploration of Christian mysticism, then Celtic Christian mysticism, then Celtic paganism and on into a broader lens of the Divine Feminine and Goddess worship as a whole.

While most might think that this has carried me further away from my childhood roots in fundamentalist Christianity, I was shocked to find the opposite to be true for me personally. Suddenly the Bible actually made sense! Its historical context and use of symbolism opened new channels for my passion in sacred feminism and advocacy. It’s like I had to circle the globe to come back and appreciate my own starting point.

I now keep an altar in my meditation room with accoutrements from various traditions and my family observes the Celtic wheel of the year and its eight sabbats alongside our previous meaningful holidays. I may meditate with Buddhist mala beads one day and a Catholic rosary the next. Pluralism has brought me profound peace.

 

MEANING, PURPOSE & PASSION

In this journey called life, we all have to answer FOUR SACRED QUESTIONS that provide the structure for meaning, purpose, and passion – the existential cornerstones to a fulfilling life.

Who am I…really, beyond and beneath the projections – the hopes, fears, dreams, and “curses” – of my family and others?

What am I doing here, and how is my life unfolding?

Where is life taking me: Am I still on the path of my purpose?

Who will come with me: Who can I count amongst my allies to help me meet this purpose, and who must I let go of?

When we are able to answer these, there is a profound sense of congruence across all levels of being (mind, body, and spirit) that cannot be overstated! We are at peace with ourselves and excited about the future.

For those feeling as if they’ve stalled out or perhaps never really got going in the first place, taking a peek at your Ancestral lineage may just be the fire starter you’re looking for.

P.S., I would love to hear some of YOUR noteworthy experiences in the comment section below!


Additional Resources:

  • Ancestry.com – I highly recommend going for the highest tier you feel comfortable with. While I started with the basic monthly plan at $19.99, I quickly moved up to the middle tier ($34.99) when half of my relatives’ documents were from overseas by the middle 1800’s and that’s the only way to view international records. Most won’t need the highest tier ($44.99) as it’s mainly for newspapers and military records, but to the dedicated enthusiast, those can definitely be fun to explore too! I sometimes go up and down the tiers based on how much free time I have to devote to it.

 

  • 23 & Me – I actually did both the Ancestry.com DNA test and the one from 23 & Me. I love them for different reasons. Ancestry.com’s gave me a super cool overview of my DNA Story, showing me how my ancestors migrated to the US etc. and I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful it has been to receive the automatic updates to connections with other Ancestry users who match my DNA as it validates certain parts of my tree I’ve been working on.  With 23 & Me, I love the biological focus of the upgrade option, especially for those who may be adopted or who don’t know much of their parents’ and grandparent’s medical history. The health risk reports are comprehensive!

 

My first scholarly loves on my journey:


About the Author:

pensacola therapyTamara Powell, LMHC is a licensed therapist, university psychology instructor, and empowerment coach who believes life should be lived as a journey that is “anything but ordinary.”

Passionate about holding sacred space for the rebels and mystics of the world – the healers, the visionaries, and the creatives, she guides them in bringing their soul driven purpose to the planet in a very practical and powerful way.

Learn more about her and her services here.

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