Naming Your Ancestors (part one)

In a previous blog, I discussed having discretion when writing about family members especially if publication is the plan.  I also mentioned the value of doing your personal groundwork in order to lend credibility and depth to whatever you are writing.  And then, the disclaimer–don’t proceed with this if it is too tender of an area for you; and do have support in place (whether professional or a trusted friend). Depending on one’s family history, there are areas where we face challenges–sometimes we aren’t ready for this type of exploration.  Be self-wise in this regard. There is never force when we pursue our own growth.  Take small steps and lots of pauses and retreats when necessary.
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Following is an exercise I’ve borrowed from Barbara G. Walker’s book entitled, Women’s Rituals.   I’ve used this exercise in a creative writing workshop and found it to be deeply grounding.  It is called NAMING. Conducting this exercise outdoors in nature would be conducive, though not necessary, to this experience.

Depending on if you are female or male, follow the lineage of your same sex ancestors to create a list of names.

Women:  List the first names of your mother and your sister(s); going back as far as you remember, list the first names only of your mother’s lineage–grandmother, great- grandmother, your aunts–grand and great aunts.

When you have finished with this list, do the same with your father’s side starting with his mother, your paternal aunts,  great grandmother and go back as far as you know.

Next list any elder women who influenced you, besides your named relatives, when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, soccer coaches, Girl Scout leaders, whomever.  Be as thorough as you can in your listing.

Finally, were there any historical women, public figures or even actresses whom you particularly admired as a girl or young woman.  List their first names also.

Men:  Using the same listing technique, begin with your father’s lineage and write down the first names of the males in that lineage.  Your father’s first name, your brother(s); your grandfather, great-grandfather, great or grand uncles going back as far as you remember.

Then list the first names of the males in your mother’s lineage, as far back as you can remember.

Continue with the first names of any elder men who have influenced you when you were growing up.  This could be teachers, friends of your family, sports coaches, Boy Scout leaders, etc.

Finish your list with the first names of any historical men, public figures or actors whom you looked up to as a boy or young man.

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When you feel satisfied that your list is complete, stand, take a few deep breaths and read the names aloud, slowly.

Be present with these names for a few minutes.

(When I did this exercise with a group, the energy of these names was palpable.)

Recognizing that these are your female or male ancestors with their multitude of personalities and stories, do you feel their presence, their aliveness, their connection to you?  All of this through the act of naming them.  Does this feel like a place of power?

WRITING PROMPT:
Write about this experience of naming.

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2 thoughts on “Naming Your Ancestors (part one)

  1. Touching the spirits of our ancestors is far more important than most realize. I’m glad you brought this idea forward. I recently did some journaling around this topic, but it was based more upon a story of the unknown than of specific knowledge of the few names I could muster. There is healing in the gap too, however. My growth? I released identification with an endless timeline of emotionally distant relatives. Somewhere in the middle, I found connection with these unknown and un-storied ones. Beautiful topic, Christina.

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