Why climb the family tree?

In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Essayist . Lecturer . Poet — 1803-1882)

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Why climb the family tree?

What motivates someone to root themselves in the search for their ancestors and see how far the branches will grow?

Judging by the commercial call-to-action of online family history research sites there appears to be a growing interest in people to discover their roots. Sign up, sign in and a world of connection awaits. What took me years to accumulate through old school methods almost 30 years ago is now frequently available by simply typing a name, hitting “Enter” and watching what sprouts.

As a budding genealogist all those years ago, I spent many, many hours venturing to genealogical libraries, studying volumes of microfiche, writing letters to archivists, and attending genealogical workshops and conferences. As a wonderful starting point, hours were spent combing through boxes of old photographs and family papers my maternal grandfather had left behind when he passed away.

And thank goodness he had, or I might never have had a chance to acquaint myself with the family history behind my personal mystery.

But that wasn’t why I did it … at least, not at first.

Like most people lured to their ancestral past, I was searching for lost glory … looking, for a link to some famous character in history, or royalty, or celebrity, or event. Our family lore mentioned of a link to Swedish royalty, way back when. I wanted to find it.

Grandpa’s withered documents were a tremendous resource. Sifting through the yellowed, tattered papers with their handwritten lineages and stories was a veritable treasure hunt. What little tidbit would reveal itself next? And the candid sepia photographs and portraits of my forebears confirmed the physical connection. Yes, that Belton chin really does run in the family.

Beltons

Seated: My great, great, grandfather Henry Belton and his wife Mary Jane Crouse, with two of their children. Circa 1890

The quest for my “royal” roots is what drove me, but in the process of researching I uncovered so much more.

Heroes, villains, thrivers and survivors dotted the branches as they grew. Their lives were coloured with strength of character; cowardice; mountains of creativity; mental health issues; joy; sorrow; pain; loss; wealth, poverty, adventure … .

I met United Empire Loyalist ancestors who’d fought and lost everything in the American Revolution and were among the first migrants to Upper Canada from New York State in the 1770s.

I learned about the hardships of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in Alberta in the 1930s and the mental, emotional and physical toll this had on my grandfather’s family (something from which he never recovered.)

I learned about my Scottish ancestors who left Glasgow for the promise of a new life in Canada and pioneered in northern Alberta in the 1920s.

I learned about my Irish ancestors who fled to Canada to escape the great potato famine in the 1850s.

I learned to appreciate, and identify with, the many strong women who’d endured great emotional, psychological and physical hardships in the face of great challenges including, in some cases, their misogynist husbands.

Perhaps one of the most important things I realized is the influence my ancestors’ experiences, for good or ill, have had my own views of, and responses to, the world around me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we are the sum total of our ancestors’ experiences plus what we bring into this world and what happens to us while we’re here. That residing in each of us, at some level, lies the pain, joy, sorrow, heroism, cowardice, creativity, adventure, bravery, villainy, love, and so on, that permeated the lives of those who came before. What we do with this is up to us.

Simplistic? Maybe. However, it is, for me, a liberating notion. Why? Because I can see a more complete picture of who I am and set about nurturing what I like about myself while releasing what I don’t like. This, of course, is impossible without some level of self-awareness.

Bantry ND

Bantry, North Dakota, circa 1909 … the town and year of my grandfather’s birth

For all that he loved his family history my maternal grandfather was a deeply troubled man and a bully. He terrorized all the women in his life, including his mother, his wives (he married four times) and his daughter, my mother.

Not surprisingly, her terrors, seemingly by osmosis (because mom’s always insisted she did her best to guard me against grandpa’s influence), infiltrated my own interactions with the world. This was something I was unable to change until I sought help to unseal all the locked places in my psyche and drew into the conversation my knowledge of family history.

Talk about  an “Ah, ha!” moment.

Fortunately, by climbing the family tree I’ve been able to examine grandpa’s life, more closely than I might otherwise, and understand, to a certain extent, the origins of his demons (just keep climbing that tree). As well, once I could let go of my anger toward him, I was able to create space for compassion and forgiveness.

I realized too that I have the power to stay the tide of his despair. Even though there is no next generation for my family, I can heal my life so it’s more enjoyable for me and the people who share it.

So, why climb the family tree?

On the surface it’s a wonderfully rich, personal adventure into history, the parts our families played in it and how they were effected by events of their time. I was never more curious about the American Revolution than when I learned the role my family played in it.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the incredible role our ancestors can play in our healing journey while we are making our own history and creating, as Ralph Waldo Emerson so beautifully put it “… the new piece of music which is [our] life.”

That, as I discovered, is why I climbed my family tree …

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Be well …

Dorothy 🙂

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PS During my climb I discovered that one of my ancestors was, indeed, Royal Physician to Queen Christina of Sweden in the 17th century. This was confirmed by a Swedish genealogist I’d hired to do the research based on information provided from my grandfather’s papers. 

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013

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A Struggle With Visibility

Still more on the personal journey …

I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m in therapy. I hit the proverbial wall a few years ago and at the time, feeling depressed, stuck, fatigued and hopeless, decided if I really wanted to move beyond it I had to figure out how to get out of my own way. So, I put myself in therapy.

Every week the light shines a little deeper into my personal abyss.

This week’s session was another exercise in moving beyond trauma. My awareness shifted once again as I learned to understand my life’s main coping mechanism … invisibility.

“When I’m invisible no one can hurt me.”

Acting on this belief is how I’ve managed to survive. The trouble with this way of being, however, is that it cuts me off from the world around me. I’ve rarely been really present in my experiences and have found it difficult to recognize or accept honest help when it’s offered. A lot of this has boiled down to my inability to trust.

As a result, I have almost no memory of my early years and spotty recognition of times after that. What resonates are the vibrations of traumatic childhood experiences that have conditioned my responses as an adult.

This is what I am seeking to understand and change through therapy. I still have a lot of life left and it no longer serves me to live invisiblly.

Happy boy

My horse is an important part of my journey to wholeness. His power and size mean I must be present when interacting with him. But I must first be there … here … present … for myself. In no uncertain terms Bear teaches me to do this every day.

I need, and want, to be visible but the thought of it, at times, still terrifies me. It is this ongoing battle between the new self-awareness and the old “comfortable” way of being that brings on such great fatigue. And as I prepare, now, to be front and centre on my upcoming wedding day these feelings only seem to become more entrenched and argumentative.

Yet I am determined to see the battle through, rejoice in my visibility, and continue to walk the healing path so my creative spirit can come shining through.

Putting these feelings into words in this blog is part of my healing.

Allowing the words to flow to you by pressing the “Publish” button is part of the challenge.

My finger is inevitably poised over the delete key …

… but not this time.

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Lost Years

Release the fears,

And all the tears

Wept for the lost

And lonely years.

Be not afraid

Just let them go.

Plant new the seed

And watch it grow

In strength and love

Toward the light,

The shadow’s power

No more in sight.

And be that light

That wants to shine.

It is your turn,

Oh child, mine.

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Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

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Copyright Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013 
All Right Reserved

The Art of Veil Painting — “The Artist as Singer”

Veil painting is a meditative art form based on the work of Austrian philosopher, social reformer, architect, esotericist and developer of the Waldorf education system, Rudolf Steiner. He believed in the healing qualities of colour, the nature of this colour “therapy” being to stimulate different emotional responses for each individual.

In veil painting, watercolours are thinned to a very light value and wet colours are applied one at a time only over dry colours.

With no preconceived idea of the final result, the artist patiently layers “veils” of colour one over another in varying patterns, never repeating exactly the same shapes in the same place. Ultimately the veils of colour will reveal an image or motif which the artist may then bring more into consciousness.

I took up veil painting several years ago during art therapy and fell in love with it. I loved its mystery which reminded me of my fondness for the semi-precious stone, Labradorite. At first glance the stone looks grey, but move it about under the light and it comes to life as a miracle of colour.

And so it is with veil painting. At first glance it looks to be only a mess of colour, but as one meditates upon it the shapes and patterns and colours start to come to life.

This is one of my early works, done when I was a member of a vocal trio called “ChoirGirlz.” The image reflected in this painting, to me at least, is a light silhouette of the profile of a female singer holding a microphone, her dark hair swept back as if the wind has blown through it. The woman is me and that’s why I call this painting “The Artist as Singer.” This image was not intentioned into the painting — it simply came into being as the work progressed. It is a reflection of the journey to self-awareness — ever-unfolding and enlightening to those who can see with a soft eye and an open heart.

I invite you to engage the singer, but encourage you to be satisfied with whatever comes into focus for you.

If you find her, let me know …

Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012