One of my favourite television programmes is the one that traces family history – Who Do You Think You Are? It’s nothing to do with being nosy – well, maybe a little bit – about the rich and famous. Anyway, a writer needs to be curious… well, that’s my excuse anyway. No, it’s because I am always moved because, for the most part, the experience has such a profound effect on the subject of the programme. Almost without fail the person who has delved into their roots comments that they feel more complete for knowing who and where they come from.
I have always been a little jealous I suppose. Being able to trace your ancestors back to the year dot must give you a huge sense of belonging.
Coming from an Eastern European background, I can only imagine who and what my ancestors did. I have tried to trace the family tree and have come unstuck since so much of Russia and Poland has either been swallowed up by other countries, or just simply been obliterated. With my father dying when I was fifteen and my mother only fifteen years after him, I have had few relatives to ask. It is always the way that your interest is only piqued once you reach a certain age or a particular point in your life where you want to know about these things. For many I think, having children of their own suddenly makes them feel a responsibility to pass on as much as they can. I have a sense of guilt that my children know next to nothing about their maternal ancestors. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t the slightest bit interested and has a family tree dating back many generations!
Would knowing who and what my forebears were add to my daily well-being? I believe it would. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, no matter who or what they were. No matter how many people surround us in our daily lives, we are always, to an extent, isolated individuals. We face our family and friends and colleagues on a daily basis armed with only our internal knowledge and belief in ourselves. For a few this belief is very strong – but, as I learned during my days as a counsellor and psychological therapist, most people doubt themselves and lack confidence. No matter how good at covering this up we all are – and some of us are experts – there is often a huge well of self-doubt and insecurity in our social interactions.
So, perhaps knowing that some of my ancestors were good people – and by that I mean were moral, responsible individuals who put others first – perhaps that would give me a sense that my gene pool is rich with possibility, that I have an ancestry to be proud of and something to ground me more solidly to the earth in my daily struggle with this nonsensical world.