Connecting with your Ancestors
By Steward of the Wood
Steward of the Wood
What is it that connects people, not only to family but even to total strangers? Of course many things attract us, but one of the strongest is our common bonds. Humans are “pack” animals like horses, wolves, cattle, and many other creatures. In addition to a common need for shelter and food, there is a basic need for social interaction. We need each other spiritually as well as biologically.
Have you ever stopped to think of all the ways that you are connected to other humans, both alive and dead? It is a fact that the DNA in every cell of your body was passed to you by your ancestors. In fact you are carrying exact copies of genes that are tens to hundreds of thousands of years old. No wonder we feel closeness with our ancestors. In addition, our bodies and personalities are shaped by those genes and the family environment in which we grew. When you look at a stranger’s face in a crowd, do you sometimes see your own or a close relative’s features? There is a reason for that. A simple formula (2n) illustrates my point. For every generation that you go back from yourself, take where n is the number of generations from yourself. For the number of parents, n=1 and you have =2. For your grandparents, n=2 and you have =4 and so on. Just for fun, let’s go back twelve generations, about 400 years, to when the Europeans arrived in the New World. If I did my math right, we would each have 4096 ancestors. Can you imagine? No wonder there is a common bond to others…we are all generally related. Assuming that there are on average three generations per hundred years, how many people were our direct ancestors when the Celts arrived in Ireland perhaps 2500+ years ago, in 75 generations?
Spiritually as Druids, we feel a strong connection to our ancestors as well as to our own spirits from past lives. We believe that the Ancestors are with us at all times; and remember, yours are there too. Our parents, grandparents and so on back to the dawn of time are with us… and that is a good thing. As you pray to the Ancestors during ritual or at other times, pray to your personal ancestors, call them by name, look at their pictures, hold an object that they owned, visit their home or other place where they lived or died. If you listen carefully, they will communicate with you. It is exhilarating. Personally, it is more of a “knowing” that an ancestor is with me or perhaps the hair may stand up on the back of my neck or I may feel a little queasy. I am learning to not panic but to just “be with it” and listen with all my senses. By this simple process, I often feel a “leaning or direction” which leads to a solution to my question.
I observed a very interesting phenomenon over my life time, but especially in the past five years as I learned specifically about Druidry. Almost universally, people like to talk about their relatives, their ancestors, and where they lived. As I grew closer to my ancestors, I started making a point to ask others about their ancestors. Almost without exception, someone will tell me about where they grew up and then frequently we begin to talk about the national origin of their family. It is amazing and incredibly powerful.
Usually the interaction starts with a general dialogue. For example, this dialogue could develop sitting next to someone on a plane. With family, friends, and colleagues, the discussion may unfold over a cup of coffee or other libation. At some point, I ask where they “hail from” and then the dialogue and excitement invariably starts. I always encourage them to share first and then I share some of my background. Many times the person asks me how I came to learn so much about my ancestors. I describe the process of starting with living relatives and resources such as family trees, pictures, letters, etc. Then I describe using online resources, both free and for-pay. Usually at this point, I give them the free website of www.rootsweb.com. Two simple examples follow of how this worked for me.
Last summer, my sister and her life partner visited me; and of course during the visit, I engaged them in a discussion of ancestry. My sister’s partner told me her family story and how little ancestry she knew beyond her grandparents. Later that day, I invited her to sit with me at the computer to investigate ancestry together. Before long, we found information on her parents and grandparents and their siblings. Intrigued, I traced her family tree for several hours the next day and pieced together her ancestry to the early 1800’s.
Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, New York Harbour (c.1900)
She joined me periodically, her eyes glistening and her voice animated. When they left the next day, I presented her with a hardcopy of her family tree dating to the early 1800s. I have known her for over twenty years and cannot remember an incident in which she was so excited. I gifted her with knowledge and the possibility of connection with her ancestors. Since then she shared her family tree with her brothers and sisters and they also celebrated. What a marvelous gift and it took so little time on my part.
Another interesting incident happened recently. During a phone conversation with a work colleague from Washington, DC, she asked how I liked living in Colorado. I replied, “I like it fine and am comfortable with the cold weather since my ancestors evolved in northern Europe.” She immediately asked me for more details about the origin of my ancestors. Then she quickly mentioned that her grandparents immigrated to the US through Ellis Island, New York during the 1930s and 1940s. They were Jewish and originated from central Russia. Unfortunately she knew little about the family except their names and origin. I told her of possible resources including websites and how to use them. The power of our conversation fascinated me and her energy and enthusiasm was incredible.
I am called as a Bard and Druid to explore my own ancestry and to help others discover theirs. Many resources are available today, often on-line at our fingertips. Clearly a worldwide movement exists to learn about our ancestors. Over the years, I watched the increase of the number of individuals listed on www.rootsweb.com from a few million to tens of millions. The number grows daily…and the website is free. Starting with this article, I will write a series of articles for Henge Happenings. Each one will address a specific aspect of learning about our ancestors. Please join me for each one and I invite you to work along with me. I ardently welcome your feedback through the Henge of Keltria office or the Keltria-L or Keltria-G group sites. The Keltria-G group site is dedicated to ancestry. Whether you are already active in your search or just beginning, we all benefit from sharing what we know or asking questions to facilitate our quests.
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