Just Who do you think you are?
I am addicted to watching Who do you think you are. I find it compelling viewing, regardless of if I have heard of the person or not. To discover tracks of how adversity was overcome and risks taken, of great journeys and adventures. As a writer – as well as as being a personal quirk – I’m intrigued by what drives people; what makes them tick, apart from biology, hormones and survival instinct.
Early on in life I already wanted to do our family tree but noone would talk to me. At thirteen I still needed a parents permission to use of the telephone, especially for long distance phonecalls, permission to contact any relative on my own, and to look into anything. Wherever I turned there was all these “stuff” you just don’t talk about and even less ask about.
My motivation in those days was rather different from today. Then I wanted to find living people to connect with; less “boring” relatives… meaning ones that actually saw me; that I felt I had something in common with; AND an the same time to do something WORTHWHILE. There’s THAT word again… Something that would be SEEN. A project that was tangible and meritable. By that I mean something that could stand on it’s own and have some sort of value in the world.
I don’t know whether my parents discouragement and disinterest was due to financial constraints. I think in part it probably was. Genealogy in the 70s was very different from how accessible it has become with the arrival of computers. What 13yr old can and has the means to travel, make appointments to visit far-flung churches and archives? And gets taken seriously should she get that far? To risk someone (ie untamed me) coming across some white elephant in the carefully conjured smokescreens that surrounds every family’s secrets? It just was not done. It was always, “when you’re an adult you can do it”. Eighteen seemed a very long way away.
Nevertheless, their apparent lack of interest baffled me. A tree had been done long ago on dads side, showing the bare statistics; born; married; children; died; and that publication reached back as far as the 1600, when a fire had consumed earlier records.
On my mothers side – who knows? I know a little, now…
It’s funny that on both sides of the family there is French and Dutch, and on dad’s side – if my suspicions prove correct – Finnish and Saami too! I find that prospect rather exciting. I may hate the cold and snow and mosquitos and midgets too, but the nomadic lifestyle; the raindeerskin-boots of my youth (and raindeer-meat), crafts carved from the fallen antlers and embroidery– there is a love and connection I’ve never found any rational explanation for.
I am fascinated because I’ve always felt an outsider. I wanted to see if I could find someone else like me, a few generations back perhaps. Someone I’d feel some sort of kinship with.
At the same time I am deeply divided about the whole thing. Statistics does not interest me; the people who broke molds do, and that’s not the kind of thing you find out from records of births, marriages and deaths that are the skeleton of the initial stages, and sometime the only thing you can find.
If I take myself as an example, someone like me would not even exist. Lists showing academical merits; a string of unrelated jobs (that not even I want to keep track of); or previous abodes (should a future writer of family chronicles manage to unearth those), does not tell you anything about the real me. Due to a stalker I’ve kept well away from drawing attention to myself, using nom-de-plumes when working in media. What is worth knowing or interesting about me, my proudest moments and most memorable achievements are nowhere to be found.
I am also aware that what I really yearn for is perhaps a soul tree; who have I been before, the twists and turns my core have taken, and where my souls near and dear are located. With variables such as multiple timelines etc, in 3d the whole thing falls apart almost immediately.
I’ve heard that for many on their ancestral journey the results at the end does not matter as much as the actual process of digging. I found I really enjoy it but heck, if someone had already done the same tree I’d happily pay them $20 for a copy! That said, I’ve always enjoyed research and been rather good at it too. I loved reading thorough several hundred years old property deeds, wills and stuff when I worked at the district court.
When I was 18 I was researching for a radioshow at the local library, On the third day of research I was ‘downloaded’ with a lot of information, most of which I to this day I have not consciously unpacked. It was a most peculiar and at the same time exhilarating feeling, and ever since (and before too, come tho think of it) whenever I read some interesting historical document, information not on that page sort of percolates to the surface… I enjoy ‘reading’ the blueprints of history; the why and where things connect, and etymology, rather than kings, dates and battles; the adjusted records to suit politics and those in power.
For this family tree project (and perhaps I’ll undertake some for others in the future) I have felt perfectly suited, as I have found my intuition and psychic gifts invaluable. For three weeks (and after that whenever I come across another document) I dreamed of little else besides the people I have researched, seeing places and hearing fragments of conversation, picking up clues as to where to look and what to look for. Obsessed? Me? Never…. hehe.
The whole thing has taken on a much deeper meaning along the way. It has transformed into something I can only describe as shamanistic in nature . It is my intent to heal ancestral wounds, some which I am aware of, others I encounter along the way. An act of unconditional acceptance and non-judgement,of that which was considered so shameful it had to be kept hidden. To use a cliché “to shine light on it”. To hold the space that emanates “It’s ok. It’s fine, it truly is. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here, it’s just social and religious prejudices of it’s time. I love you… Whatever everyone did, they did for some reason, and it’s all water under the bridge…”