Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Mothers Unknown

In traditional genealogy, lines are followed through the father, just as, in history, inheritance passed from father to son, lands and goods passed down with the surname. Daughters became wives of other men, taking their names and letting go of the ones their fathers gifted them. I am lucky that there have been sons in every generation of my father’s line that go straight back into the time when what we call England was made up of small tribal villages. An unbroken lineage snaking through time.

Until now. Until me.

In researching the branches connecting to that paternal line, and cobbling together the line of my mother, I have come upon so many nameless women, so many unknown mothers whose birth names were forgotten in the wedding of herself to her husband. It saddens me. I long to know their names, their paths. I want to find the lands their people worked, travelled and crossed.

I am not a son of my father. If I were, I wonder if the names unknown would pull at me as tautly as they do. I would like to think they would. But in this lifetime I am a woman who does not wish to be forgotten, so I hold those who have been gently in my heart. I have no children of my own to pass my name onto. I will not have children of my own to pass my name unto. Since I cannot be creator, I will be excavator. Since I will not be mother, I will be rememberer. I will carry the history of the surname that is half of me.

I am a daughter seeking the names of my fathers and my mothers.

The other of me is my mother, who took my father’s name when they became a family. It’s a tradition with varying answers as to why and when it started. I could not find a clean or clear reason to offer. Women were seen as less than men, unable to care for themselves and necessary for procreation. A daughter left her family to become part of her husband’s lineage. For many women, it was a match of mutual respect and she was happy to head a household in unsettling times for women. If she was lucky, she found happiness and love in her marriage. Those who were not lucky were property of the husband, in times when women did not know they could expect more.

Thankfully, most of us don’t think that way anymore. But in looking up my genealogy I find a whole lot of “Mrs. Husband Mister” in the place of the name of the wife, the mother unknown. I have been grateful for uncovering church documents where members, marriages and baptisms or christenings provide names of mothers. I have been painstakingly inserting them into my files, my ever-growing branches of names. Each new name has been a small doorway allowing me to widen the generation of family members and trace other roads backwards into time, into the bloodline that lives within me.

I am my father and I am my mother.

It’s not just my feminist views that make me desire the names of the women responsible for my being here. It’s not just my irritation at centuries of male-centered authority that place the fathers in greater importance that frustrates me. Within me, within my spirit and the anima that draws breath, I am half my mother and half my father. At the moment of conception- at each tiny big bang- we are each half male-spirit and half female-spirit at creation, whatever gender later presents itself. Each line of my ancestors is as important as the other.

The blood in my veins that belongs to Samuel Walker is equal in measure to the blood of his unknown wife that will never be known in me. There are so very many tendrils of anonymity hanging off the men in my history. In all our histories.

I reach out to the names of the mothers unknown, who end in me.

The Tribe of Lost Surnames
Ellen born 1836, married Burke.
Malvina born 1829, married Tenney.
Susan born ~1800, married Hill.
Mary/Polly born ~1780, married Riddle.
Margaret born ~1690, married Hannah.
Mehitable born 1631, married Briscoe.
Agnes born 1622, married Holbrook.
Alice born 1620, married Eaton.
Anne born 1617, married Bird.
Mary born 1610, married Wolfe.
Deborah born 1599, married Moulton.
Mary born 1596, married Pond.
Elizabeth born 1595, married Dyer.
Christian born 1530, married Clapp.
Allyse born 1502, married Clapp.
Margery born 1240, married Eaton.
Matilda born 1210, married Eaton.
Alice born 1180, married de Eaton.

The Tribe of Unknown Mothers
Woman born ~1610, married Gillett.
Woman born ~1620, married Grove.
Woman born 1615, married Dutcher.
Woman born ~1600, married Canfield.
Woman born ~1581, married Bryan.
Woman born 1578, married Gylette.
Woman born ~1575, married Briscoe.
Woman born 1560, married Kempe.
Woman born 1550, married Pond.
Woman born ~1550, married Nichols.
Woman born 1520, married De Gylette.
Woman born 1520, married Goodere.
Woman born 1520, married Cooke.
Woman born ~1520, married Ford.
Woman born ~1480, married Fford.
Woman born 1465, married Moulton.
Woman born ~1455, married de Forde.
Woman born 1415, married Moulton.
Woman born ~1360, married Eaton.
Woman born ~1330, married Eaton.
Woman born ~1300, married Eaton.
Woman born ~1273, married Eaton.
Woman born ~1150, married Eaton.
Woman born ~1120, married Eaton.

I hold your spirit in me, the spirit that was held in body and took breath from air in the time that you lived. What is a name but a label we apply to ourselves? It speaks not to your temperament or beauty. It speaks no word, but life. The you in me and my blood and the air we breathe that I use to speak as we walk through the world.

I hold your spirit. I speak your life. I thank you for me.


  1. It's honor and give justice to those who came before. I love you!

  2. Thanks- love you right back. Just yesterday I found a name in an old marriage list for one of the women:

    "Elizabeth born 1595, married Dyer."

    Her name was Elizabeth Capen.


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