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 3, 2013

The Danger of Genealogy

Anyone who has done their own genealogical research will find themselves, after a moment of discovery, at the same crossroad that I have reached numerous times. After either a lengthy period of research or the goldmine of stumbling onto a family tree that someone else has already done the legwork for (score!), when the bliss and adrenaline-rush of the breakthrough wear off, I find myself momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer number of new names suddenly awaiting my transcription.
I have so much gratitude for the family trees that I have found, especially when they add multiple generations of unknowns to my own tree. That gratitude is part of the reason I offer what information I have to those who stumble onto my page because we share a common ancestor. It’s my way of paying it forward.
At the same time, to suddenly have over a hundred new names and dates waiting to be organized and inserted into the existing hundreds of names I have, can be darkening. Weaving your way through family trees, lineages, and dates is like using a loom for the first time. For example, you hold the thread of a wife and mother in the back of your brain so that you can continue up the father’s line. When it reaches an end point, you can return to the past, to that woman, and follow her thread backwards.
You do this, two by two, generation by generation, sometimes finding ten or more names before retreating back to start all over. In the end, you have woven a fuller tapestry of your family’s journey through the ages. But if you miss a thread, or if you pull it into the wrong spot, the tension is off and something just doesn’t look quite right. It requires such focus and intention that it is easy to lose yourself in another world, where time is more fluid and interchangeable.
Once a year I halt my search for new names, usually around spring equinox. Once a year I stop searching for more and focus my research on learning more about the ones I have. It is always at this point, when my brain is swollen with the names and dates of those who have come before me and learning how they interconnect with each other and how they end in me that I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it hurts.
And it occurs to me that this work is somewhat dangerous. You can’t unknow what you know. It’s not necessarily about what the knowledge is, but just how much of it there is. Once I realized that I had over 1,400 names of ancestors, fourteen-hundred names of people who lived, loved, and died, that I know of, so that I could be here… no, not could. Would. So that I would be here. So that I am here… I become less meaningful. It’s humbling, frightening even.
I matter because I have breath. All living things matter. I matter because I am here and this is my life that is impacting the world around me. But when you pull back on the view and look at the larger picture, I am just one more human. I am not going to have children. No one will ever search for me on their family tree. My line dies with me when I take my last breath. After that breath, I will cease to matter to anyone but those who loved me who are still alive. I will no longer impact the living world.
My family bloodline will continue, for now, in the children my sister and brother have. Some of the blood that runs in me will continue, though I am not sure whether or not I even think that’s important. But it’s a thought. That idea marks me as outside of the slipstream of my bloodline; I am of this family, but not of its greater ancestral journey.
I could allow that logic to consume me, to count me as ineffectual. And I might believe it. And there is the danger, the precipice of ‘why bother?’ The danger is two-fold. We must not let our study of the past overwhelm us from remembering that we are change and that we can change and that each voice can be counted in the now. We must use the knowledge we glean from the mistakes our ancestors have made to make better decisions today. And we must not immerse ourselves in the past so much that we forget to live in the world. It’s all happening around you. Right now.
When I find myself in these shadowed moments, I meditate with my ancestors and the answer is always the same. Remember to come up for air from the past and bring what you learn into practice in the present. The best way we can honor them is to live now, to be kind to each other, to treat this earth in a way that is sacred and symbiotic, so that those who come after us may also have the chance to live. We must all be good ancestors now, while we are alive and while we are breathing. 


  1. This is a beautiful entry. I do the same thing with my tree - research names, then go in and fill in as much information as I can find on individuals. I think about those faceless people sometimes, and the lives that they lived, and I realized we are all moving toward some unnameable future. xoxo

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. That is the only way I know how to study my family line, as well as uncover it. I have found over the last couple of years, of discovering and then researching and then repeating, that I am actually remembering who belongs to what branch of my tree!


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