I’ve been putting off writing this post because it feels too big, and I’m not sure where to begin.
Do I start with genealogy? You might be bored before I even begin. DNA? Too scientific. Ancestral memory? Too woo.
So let’s start with me, spitting in a tube.
Last year I took an Ancestry DNA test, and it came back (no surprise) that I’m a European hybrid. My largest ethnicity percentage is Great Britain at 38%. I’ve also got Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Ireland, Finland/Northwest Russia and a little tinge of Southern Europe and Iberian Peninsula (that must be where my love of sunshine comes from!) The entire continent of Europe from coast to coast seems to be embodied in my cells.
Earlier this summer I was chatting with a friend who has Portuguese ancestry, although she’s always lived in the United States. She said when she finally visited her ancestral village, something clicked. It was a real, visceral feeling that she didn’t know how to describe: “Like a piece of the puzzle suddenly fit in perfectly, even though I didn’t know it was ever missing.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard that story.
I’m fascinated by the growing field of epigenetics, the idea that intangible things like memory are passed in our genes along with physical traits like eye color. Studying genetic genealogy I’ve learned that the exact same sequences of DNA which were in our ancestors’ cells, existing within us. Little snippets of code, passed from parent to child, over the centuries. It’s the golden thread that connects us to our ancestors, back to the very first humans.
So when I think of my great-grandmothers, and the same DNA that lived in her cells and now lives on in mine, I wonder – what are the qualities we share, beyond physical characteristics.
Could we share the same fears, dreams, sense of humor, skills, hobbies, food preferences, creative ability…?
What was her life like, and could the circumstances of her life actually have an echo which is passed down to me today?
A Sense of Place
For thousands of years, humans lived deeply connect to their place. The land. The seasons. The wild foods (and what they could grow). The essence of that place gave their lives a rhythm. It shaped their culture.
Now, for the first time in human history, we are SO disconnected from our place and its cycles. Our culture spreads electronically, worldwide. We can ignore the seasons, and even the time of day, through central heating, air conditioning and electric lights. Even the food doesn’t have to change. Want to get a fresh cucumber in Siberia in February? You can. (For real. I was there!)
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some technology, travel and access to a wide range of fresh food year round.
But, still, the sense of disconnection lingers. Have you felt it too?
Feeling like you’re on auto-pilot? Like you don’t quite fit, but you’re not sure why, and wondering if you’ll ever really find your place? A nagging sense that you’re not on the right path, or that there’s something more, if you could just put your finger on it…
So I’m starting a new project…
The Roots of Me (and You!)
For the next year, I’m on a mission to re-discover my ancestral places, and the women who lived there.
But more than names and dates, I want to dig into the qualities of that place. The ingredients. The rituals.
Here’s my general plan:
- First, where are my ancestral places?
- Then – who was the grandmother who lived there? What was her daily life like?
- What did she eat? What grew in her garden?
- What did she use for medicine? For beauty? What would she do for fun or creativity?
- For her community, her place, what was the rhythm of the year like? Did they have rituals? Traditions?
And then, how can I incorporate some of these ancestral foods/medicines/plants/rituals into my own life?
And when I do … will I feel anything?
I’m also planning to actually GO to these ancestral places throughout the year. I want to visit the church where she was married, walk the streets, meet the plants, maybe even see where her house was.
I am super curious if I’ll feel anything when I’m physically there.
Feel what? I have no idea. A vague sense of comfort, of “homecoming”, or remembering? A feeling like I fit?
The women who have told me they felt a ‘click’ when visiting an ancestral place are often very strongly of one ancestry. But I’m a whole European blend. So is it too far distant to feel it in my bones? There’s only one way to find out…
First up on this project is England, because I live here now! Always good to start where you are. And so it begins!
Do you know where your ancestral places are? Have you ever visited one? What was it like?