Climbing the Tree of Family and Re-Storying the Past

Image ititled 'Out There' repoduced under a Cretive Commons license by  Teodora Taneva

Image ititled 'Out There' repoduced under a Cretive Commons license by  Teodora Taneva

I was preparing a story for the Story Wise Woodend monthly storytelling night and the theme was Ancestors.  

The question: How am I connected, affected and attached to the meaning and patterns in this story? is what makes the task meaningful to me.  I was worried I would struggle to find any connection to life now.   

The difficulty is that it is very rare that we have our ancestors voices, their words, feelings, any insight into inner world.  We can often use general history sources to paint a pretty good picture of their outer world, but who they were is a mystery.

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I chose one ancestral line to work with for a few reasons.  

It is, as far as I can tell, the only genetic line not coming from the British Isles, and so it has far more exotic appeal.  

It was also a pragmatic choice because someone has written a book about this group of immigrants, with lots of details and source material and so I could easily access information. 

And it turned out, that in amongst that material was a great story.  

In a nutshell it is the history of a congregation of Prussian Lutherans, being persecuted in the 1830’s to the point where they sought and found sponsorship to emigrate.  They were the first wave of German settlers to arrive in South Australia. 

I also knew about a more recent part of my family history; my great grandfather had changed his name because of anti-german sentiment during the First World War.  

I enjoyed the benefits of the modern era with Ancestry.com (particularly useful for anglo saxons), being able to track like a private eye, births and deaths, towns and addresses. I complemented this with conversations with my sister and mum to fill the picture.  But it was just that, a still life portrait.  

It wasn’t until I started imagining feelings and filling in the blanks, making up stories for how it was for these shadowy figure of antiquity, that a story, with colour and movement began to emerge and I started to feel into what I could see and learn.

I superimposed perspectives based on birth order, addresses and electoral rolls, and my wishful thinking.  I fitted a narrative onto static facts, theorising then fact checking, re-calibrating and re-storying along the way.  It was fun and it was inspiring.

I saw a pattern of persecution. 

I created an ancestral 5 x great grandmother who was inspiring, empowered and in control.  

And then I felt her strength in my history.

I can carry Anna Elizabeth with me now and call on her DNA.

Such are the powers and benefits of story.

Have you spent time down the ages?  What did you learn? How do you makes sense of your family history in relation to who you are?