516 Years of Ancestral Healing

Happy New Year!

Very recently, I was inspired to begin writing (and creating! and designing! and speaking!) and, well, actually publishing and sharing these creations. 🙂

365 Days of Creative offerings, sharing, and gifts

During 2019, I intend to offer one post per day . . . essays, poems, videos, and all kinds of little gifts and offerings. Today is Day 1!

Today I share last night’s culmination of my many-months long quest to organize and share family history with all my living relatives. On some levels it’s been a work in progress for 30 years. Or 516 years!


Here is most of the letter I shared with my family-near-and-far last night at midnight:

Here is a gift for you.

For the past few months, I’ve been organizing, researching, and scanning ancestor photos, genealogy documents and records, and family history stories. My wish has been to share with you all by the end of 2018—I have barely made it! Well, sort of. I am able to share our extended family tree (that I made on Ancestry.com), and I have documents and photos ready to share.

It has taken me 3 years to figure out how to create, organize, and share this whole project, a project truly in the works for 30 years (by me) but dating back nearly 80 years (!) If we count it as starting with the genealogy research my great-grandfather began gathering in the early 1940s. This past August, while on a quiet camping trip, I felt the call to get going on this NOW . . . and I’ve been working on it every weekend since!

Ancestral Medicine

My whole approach to this ancestor project is based on the work described by  David Foor in his 2017 book Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing.

Ancestral Medicine - Rituals for Personal and Family Healing

I believe that, (like humans in general) many of our ancestors both lived well and died well, and yet also many of our ancestors did not (oh, humanity, how we suffer). The dead not at rest carry forward their unresolved issues, and we see and experience resonant challenges, traumas, addictions, and general suffering in our lives, and in the lives of our children.

How do we heal the unresolved issues of our ancestral past?

How do we heal it? Many who study psychology note that behaviors (like addictions and abuse) tend to track through generations, and many are now familiar with the concept of “intergenerational trauma”—experienced both by those whose ancestors have experienced the traumas of racism and genocide, as well as those whose ancestors have perpetrated such sorrowful deeds, whether by malevolent intent or by simple ignorance. These things track through time, and it is our invitation now to work with these parts of our own history that are alive inside of our DNA.

Our people were adventurers.

So what were our ancestors like. . . who were they? There are many stories, and I’ve only begun to dive beneath the surface. Yet, many patterns already emerge! Our people were adventurers who did not abide well by the status quo! (I’m speaking generally, but there’s a theme of it in many stories I’ve read and heard and seen via photos.)

They were often on the frontier, moving every generation or two, full of energy, and they were travelers. I think the courageousness, resilience, and adventure found in all of that is awesome! They were also farmers in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio; stagecoach drivers in Idaho; silver miners in Nevada; cowboys escorting cows many miles across Texas; and trailblazers discovering new trails across California.

The deepest kind of pain our country has known

But, along with the adventures, there was also abuse, unkindness, and the deepest kind of pain our country has known: soldiers in wars, racism, slave owners (yes, I found that one family had slaves, and I cried a lot), and there was one (only one that I know) person who participated in killing a group of Native people after a few local tribe members killed the children of the family who lived next door to him. These sorrows, shames, and karmas of our country are our inheritance too. But they don’t need to become our legacy.

These sorrows, shames, and karmas of our country are our inheritance too. But they don’t need to become our legacy.

I researched the history of the area where the killing and the massacre took place (in Nevada), and as in many places at that time (as now), there was a climate of fear and unease that led up to these two tragedies. It’s not easy working with this kind of ancestral information, but of course it is there because our ancestors (multiple branches of them) have been on this land that is now the United States since the mid and early 1770s, since before we were this country. Our family’s history is American.

Thousands of individual kindnesses

And, like everyone’s ancestors everywhere, if we track (or feel) our family’s history into the far back, back toward the beginning of recorded time, then our history is interwoven with all of humanity’s. . . all the beauty and love of thousands of individual kindnesses, and all the profound sufferings too. All of it.

When a person feels everything and everyone they love is at risk

Over these past months, as I’ve tried to see, feel, and imagine the world through our known ancestors’ eyes in far away times and places, I have endeavored to understand how people make difficult (or truly bad) decisions because they are working with the only information or understanding they have at the time. I feel compassion for the choices made that have led to suffering. Sometimes a particular choice (like the choice to harm or kill) is made because the person feels everything and everyone they love is at risk, or they fear that they won’t survive.

We are the result of their efforts both wholesome and harmful

Our ancestors DID survive—we are the result of their efforts, both wholesome and loving and unkind and harmful. I feel that now it is our turn to resolve the past within ourselves, to continue healing from abuses or traumas in our family’s recent past, and—taking a wider view—to appreciate that where once there was racism to the point of slavery in our family, now there is so very much less of all that within us and within our whole family.

Let’s celebrate that.

Are our ancestors evolving through us?

I can only imagine that our ancestors are evolving through us, and that, if we listen to them in imagination or meditation or dreams, then the kindest and wisest among them—those who lived well and died well—might have wisdom and support for us too, and that maybe . . . just possibly . . .  it’s exactly what we need.

(So, wow, I didn’t expect to type such a long essay! Really, I just wanted to explain the context for this project. . . I guess it’s a pretty involved context!)

There is just one more piece to share before I sign off (and share the tech details about how to find the photos, family tree, and files): Have you seen the movie Coco? (See trailer below.) I LOVE this movie! I saw it for the first time at the beginning of November when I was thick into this project. Highly recommended! This is also the spirit in which I offer this Ancestor and Family History project to you all.

With much love,

Alyson

Photo Credit: Joshua Yu on Unsplash