As a parent, the urge to preserve these stories and find out more about my lineage has become even stronger. I want my daughter to know who she descends from as she grows older. Understanding where she comes from can only help her figure out where she's going in the future.
"You're never alone, even during what you think are your weakest moments. You have thousands of years of powerful ancestors within you, the blood of The Divine Great Ones in you, supreme intellect and royalty in you. Infinite strength is always on tap for you. Know that." ~Unknown Author
Some days, l look at her, dressed up in all her modern glory. She'll be wearing her Elsa dress from the movie Frozen, or Velcro shoes and a jean jacket, and I'll suddenly see a face from another time staring back at me. Other times it's my mother's famous eyes I see reflected. It's always fascinated me how the random entanglement of our DNA strands makes us turn out a certain way.
My little girl is an individual. With a zany sense of humour all her own and a unique way of processing the world, she strikes my heart as the ultimate original. But I know sections of her psyche and parts of her body have been passed on from somebody else.
As she grows into herself, I hope she'll celebrate her uniqueness, yes, but also marvel at the fact that her hands have been handed down, and that her eyes, as magnificent as they may be, have been around for generations.
Often I catch myself in mannerisms that remind me of my own parents. I'll sit back with my hands crossed behind my head while talking to my husband, and realize my body has inherited this habit from my mother, just as she got it from her father before her.
Sometimes the traces of our descendants are slight in us and slip right through the strands of our DNA. They are just faint echoes in our behaviours or predilections. But other times, ancient characteristics come through more forcefully and stick. My ancestors may be dead and gone and long under the ground, but I like to think of them as old friends who've helped shape the person I am today.
So who do I think I am, anyway?
The rememberer. The observer. The investigator.
I've been taking some time to research my line. Why? So that the people in my past are more than simply names on my family tree. I want to imagine what life was like for my great-grandmother Nellie, who was born in England and married her Alfred. I picture other female ancestors who came before me, people I've only heard bits and pieces about. How many fragments of Agnes, Elizabeth, Ellen, Roseanne and Janetta are embedded in me?
If I could, I would travel back in time and try to get to know them. Have a one-on-one conversation with them. Even just writing about them and acknowledging them makes me feel like a part of something bigger than myself.
So I will continue to be the rememberer, the observer, the investigator. I firmly believe that if we don't make an effort seek them out, our ancestors' names and stories will become lost, like pages stuck together in an old book nobody reads anymore.
That's why I feel it's important to recount our own family tales, even if they seem silly and unimportant at the time. They're actually more significant and influential than we think: they help glue us together and make memories for the shared family archive.
I want my daughter to go beyond the formal and know the personal: her great-grandmother didn’t just go by Molly (instead of Mary). She also used to love performing recitations in front of an audience. Her great-grandfather wasn't just a guy called Cliff born in 1925, but a proud member of the Royal Canadian Navy in WWII, whose experience stayed with him so much, he put the name of his ship (K03) on his license plate.
We all carry, inside us, people who came before us. ~Liam Callanan
I walk around with a unique constellation of traits and tics that are part my own and part on loan. Who gave me my pale skin? Who passed on the poet gene? I'll never get answers to these esoteric questions, but it's fun to wonder and learn more about the people who came before me. Their experience is inextricably woven into my own, and I feel somehow bound to them. So I write about them now to honour them. It may sound absurd, but it's also my way of getting in touch with them.
They are behind me, my ancestors, but also beside me as I walk my path. I find immense comfort in the idea that parts of them somehow survive in us. I watch my own daughter take bits of me and bits of her father and cast them out onto the world along with herself. This gift of DNA, of life, is so easily taken for granted. So let us remember the links, the souls we have inherited in our own. Let us hang on to our past, and hold it close, as if it were a shared and sacred promise.