My family has had a traumatic time over the past few years. My younger brother died very tragically in November 2007. It was the saddest day and life was never the same. My father then died suddenly in May, 2009 so another wave of loss ensued and my happy, stable family of four was halved. Like all people dealing with grief, I struggled to get through the days, the weeks, the months after each episode and still feel the deepest sense of loss. I connect to them, especially my brother, through music as I drive to work first through the bush and then through the traffic. Music is such a powerful source of memory and connection.
Another way I found myself managing these terrible waves of grief was through family history. I had already begun my search before these events, tracking back like a detective through the generations following the links. With the separation and the trauma from the deaths of those so close to me, family history and ‘looking back to look forward’ has become a link to my brother and my father. My extended family, also their family, the closest link. I could find the line anchoring us. I could lose myself in the research and discovery about where we came from. And from that, the story of our history could emerge and connect us. New narratives could form; old buried stories could be brought alive. Christina Baldwin in Storycatcher (details below) talks about tending the fire, the responsibility of being a storycatcher and the power of story to connect, ‘heal, remind and guide us.’
It’s not the only answer but:
- if moving through is having something to cling to that helps you think about the future, ironically by planting you firmly in the past….
- if moving through is knowing more about where you came from and the shared history you take forward…
- if moving through is finding stories that connect you, knowing more about the stories of your ancestors and finding those that resonate…
- if healing is about losing yourself in something so you are not completely overwhelmed by thoughts of grief and moment to moment anguish…
- if story helps anchor your creativity and move you forward into something new, to integration and resolution even if it’s all not perfect or ever the same as it was…
then family history offers a healing place, a space to learn and engage with your origins, as far as you can, to take you forward to help you face a new future.
I am not a therapist or an affiliate of any family history sites or the resources below. I speak from the experience of working through family history as part of a personal healing journey over the past few years. For me, it has led to an immense inner resource of narrative that I wish to tell in other ways such as through the writing of novels based on the stories of my ancestors. I am researching and planning this work at present.
For some people, family history research may not be possible or easy for various reasons, but I encourage people to consider the value of story to help connect in whatever way possible. Our stories of being disconnected also need to be told. The story from my family history that is the most compelling is one of absolute disconnection and it is demanding to be told.
Some resources I have found useful on this journey are:
Ancestry: Amazing site with so many electronic data bases of records and existing family histories. You need to join up for the full benefits but there is much to gain from this.
Storycatcher: making sense of our lives through the power and practice of story, Christina Baldwin: an excellent book on story and the value of narrative to help frame new worlds
The pictures on this page are some of the relatives I have found out more about through my searches. The woman above is one of my great, great, great grandmothers, Susannah Morris ( nee Richardson). The man to the right is her husband, William Morris. Both were early Australian settlers. How these photos have survived from such an early time, I do not know. My thanks to extended family member, Allan Morris, for passing them onto family member and fellow researcher, Alex McDonald and I. This is the other thing that happens – you find new family connections and forge new links that you never knew you had.
Do you have any stories to tell about the healing power of family history?