Family History: They Were Story Changers!

Tomorrow is Family History Day. The day honors the busiest day ever recorded at Ellis Island. April 17, 1907 was a milestone date, with 11,747 immigrants passing through towards their dream of making a new start in America. 

Family History in Context

Ellis Island is a symbolic place to many Americans, primarily those whose ancestors came from Europe. All Americans share a sense of resiliency, no matter the background of their ancestors. The vast majority of Americans share a sense of settling and starting anew from other places, while all, including indigenous peoples maintain special linkages to their historical traditions.

We are a nation of hybrids! Connected both to the United States, as well as to the roots of where our people come from.

Our Story Changers

What stands out to me on Family History Day is the strength and courage that our ancestors collectively shared. Whether giving up everything to save for a ticket to New York, or surviving the ordeal of the Middle Passage, our ancestors were Story Changers. Courageous and inspiring people who through luck, planning, resiliency or determination changed and built their own story — leading to ours today. Amazing!

Perceiving Our Story Changers Through Writing

Today in particular I celebrate the Story Changers we each descend from. And the Story Changers we all our individually — creating the pathway for future stories.

Journal writing is an incredible way to tap into the resiliency and wisdom of our individual and collective ancestors. The story of our families fall into three buckets: what’s known, unknown or hidden.

  • Known is available through records, stories and personal contact.
  • Unknown includes the fact we all descend from 4 grandparents, 8 great-grands, 16 great-greats and on and on. But as time passes we can lose some of those names and stories and information.
  • Hidden includes information that was destroyed, altered, or concealed, often to protect the secrets of others. Hidden information ranges from the identities of the biological parents of adoptees to the tribal connections of enslaved people.

Family History

Ancestry DNA testing is bringing more and more unknown or hidden information accessible and into the light. While empowering to discover, this information can also be unsettling. It can be a complicated experience of joy, mixed with the frustration or grief of what is or had been withheld from you.

Our intuition and perception can be an amazing tool to process unknown or hidden information as it is discovered, or to fill gaps where discovery is not possible. Insight Writing in your journal is a great way to tap your own intuition.

In honor of Family History Day I have shared a free guided meditation audio file on Insight Timer – Dialogue with Ancestors: A Meditation for Journal Writing. I invite you to walk in the shoes of your ancestors for a moment, and then write in your journal with their inspiration.

Celebrate your very own Story Changers today. And as you do so you are paving the stories of tomorrow.

 

Learn More About Your Story Changers

Your journal is an amazing resource to process what’s known, unknown or hidden about your own family and your Story Changers. I’m excited to announce the first of my classes and tools:

Understand Yourself & Your Family: Writing from the Head, the Heart and Your Own Gut Instinct

The first two sessions are open for registration now! Watch for specially designed tools and information coming me soon.

Celebrate Loved Ones Past

Today and tomorrow in Mexico, people will not just honor, but celebrate their departed loved ones. The human heart grieves long after a loved one has passed, and the traditions of Día de Muertos create a beautify communal moment.

Some of the traditions in Mexico include enjoying a loved one’s favorite foods, creating a memorial altar, sharing stories and memories, or relishing photos or cherished mementos.

We are in a moment of history where technology is changing how the heart (not the brain) takes in information. Through ancestry DNA testing, individuals can now better understand their own heritage and often uncover information that was previously unknown or hidden to them. The concept of the shape of one’s tree, as well as a connection to a vast number of ancestors is coming into a new focus as a result.

Sometimes new technology can be paired beautifully with treasured traditions. Dia de Muertos is such an occasion. Whether you are someone with a traditional tree, or more commonly today, from a family tree that includes adoption, donor-conceived individuals, information about ancestors involved in slavery, or people with misattributed parentage (i.e., discovered surprise DNA results through testing) the traditions of Dia de Muertos can be a powerful tool for processing an evolving sense of family and connection to ancestors.

Honoring Loved Ones

In the tradition of this special day, I honor the ancestors that lived in order for you to be in this very place. I honor the ways you are continuing their stories, and in other ways pushing yourself to create new ones. And I honor the ways we are all connected as a human family.

While not in the Mexican tradition, this audio meditation serves as a means to process ancestor wisdom in your journal: insig.ht/gm_153527

Image by Danie Blind from Pixabay

Celebrating Our Story Changers

Aug 16th (8/16) is what I call Story Changers Day. A day to honor ancestors known, unknown or hidden. We all come from 8️⃣ great grandparents, 1️⃣6️⃣ great greats, 3️⃣2️⃣ great great greats …
Some of their stories we know — and appreciate. Some we know, and let’s say, we’ve learned from. Others we have a sense of based on assumptions or gut instincts.
Nonetheless, for the average person ~80-100 years back we’re connected to 1️⃣6️⃣ amazing people who lived so that we could be here today.
In those 8️⃣ or 1️⃣6️⃣ or even 3️⃣2️⃣ people you have your ‘Story Changers’. People who faced poverty, or war, or slavery, or discrimination and thru determination, or luck, or hope beyond hope you live — with a tiny bit of their DNA inside you!

Celebrating & Honoring Story Changers

If you have a moment , write a note of thanks to one of these folks, or sit and be present to any that might call to you.
Each and everyone of us has their magic inside!

‘The Foundling’: My Inspiration

For over 25 years working in the change management field I’ve always been inspired by the stories and case studies of people with an inner power of self-resiliency and the ability to lead when others want to run away. As I began the journey to find my father-in-law’s biological family I found myself gravitating towards stories written by the genealogically bewildered. It’s hard enough to be anchored in you as you when you’ve known all the facts and details your whole life! Even more complicated to find that sense of inner calm and confidence when major details are missing, withheld or concealed.

I’m still most greatly inspired by the first story I read in this space, ‘The Foundling‘, by Paul Joseph Fronczak. My initial interest in the book was because I grew up knowing about this story that had been huge headline news a few years prior to my own birth, and based in the neighborhood in Chicago where my mother was from. But it’s the honesty of his story, and struggle and desire to both be fully himself and also support his biological family as well as the family who raised him that really stays with me. Truly an inspiring story reminding us all that each of us has the power to be uniquely you, and to chose which aspects of nature and nurture you want to reinforce, and those you want to redo.

Photo from http://www.foundlingpaul.com/blog

Finding Rituals

Ever read something quickly and then it still stays with you so vividly? This article Welcome to the Clan by Jodi Klugman-Rabb for Severance Magazine was just that for me.

As a therapist, Jodi works with some clients on parental identity events such as she personally experienced. She wisely points out the importance of rituals in processing any life-changing event. And, unfortunately, the lack of ritual examples for the genealogically bewildered community.

With open ears and an open heart, Jodi hears, “welcome to the clan” as a mini-ritual within her new family. And she’s also open enough to extend her Jewish-faith rituals back.

My own family stepped into some rituals that offer a bit of comfort as we make sense of my husband’s extended bio-family who we’ve met but not connected with yet. As luck would have it, we were hosting a soccer coach from Sweden at the time we discovered my father-in-law’s birth father was from a line of Finnish-Swedes! So now we celebrate all things Sweden on Coach’s birthday. (The custom of Fika is a good one to learn even if you don’t have Swedish roots!)

The thing about rituals is, you can’t fake them. They matter because they mean something. Over time I think we’ll start to see some common rituals evolve to accommodate families with unconventional branching of a tree. Indeed, the open adoption community already provides some inspiration such as with the concept of celebrating Arrival Day. But rituals, like families, are unique and that too is a reason they mean something. For those seeking to make sense of known family, new family, bio-family and family unit perhaps the pattern of a ritual, or its kismet means it may discover you.

Is ‘Genealogical Bewilderment’ really a thing?

It is. Psychologists Erich Wellisch and H.J. Sants named the phenomenon in 1964, while working with adoptees. The term refers to their observation that missing details about your own ancestry can lead to an experience of ‘genealogical bewilderment’.

I’ve been on a quest recently to find the biological family of my deceased father-in-law, who I never had the chance to meet. Every answer my husband and I celebrated created dozens of new questions and emotions. When I stumbled on the term genealogical bewilderment in a May, 2018, article by The Atlantic, the long and clumsy term made sense right away.

Ashley Fetters wrote about the concept in her article, Finding the Lost Generation of Sperm Donors:

There’s a name for that feeling—that curiosity, that sense of a missing piece, that anxiety that some dormant aspect of themselves might one day show up and have no traceable root. In 1964, the psychologists Erich Wellisch and H.J. Sants, who studied and treated troubled adoptees, understood the lack of knowledge of one’s genetic background to induce a state of what they called “genealogical bewilderment.”

Since then it seems only a niche group of psychologists have published anything further about the term.

I believe the term is due for a resurgence. I think it could be like the mighty at sign (@) or hashtag (#) symbols that might have faded into oblivion had technology not introduced the need for them in email addresses and social media respectively. The term genealogical bewilderment was originally used to describe the experience of adoptees. But as the popularity of ancestry DNA testing grows, I wonder if we’ll see a renewed use of this term that also seems to relate to people of other backgrounds. For example, beyond the donor-conceived that Fetters mentioned in her article, there are those getting “not parent expected” (NPE) results from ancestry tests, such as a child they never knew existed or that a parent who raised them is not actually biologically related. Not to mention all the half- or full- siblings, uncles and cousins who are discovering new family members as well.

Wellisch and Sants called the opposite of genealogical bewilderment, ‘ancestral closure’. I suspect ‘ancestral journey’ is a more accurate description. For now, I’m finding some comfort (while I wish for closure) just in that the bewilderment label exists. Something about the existence of the term, with the word ‘logical’ right in the middle reassured me that we’re going to be OK on this journey of learning my father-in-law’s story no matter how many more twists we decide to follow.