For those who have been following me for a while, you’ll know that ancestry and lineage are things that I speak about often. I’ve noticed that the rest of the world looks at the United States with a bit of a side-eye when the subject comes up. A lot of people around the world don’t understand why Americans seem to be so ‘obsessed’ with their lineage when, in their words, “Your great-great-great grandparents were from my country. Not you.”
I suppose I could understand why it seems strange, but allow me to try and explain from the point of view of someone whose family came to the United States about 170 years ago.
The United States, to me, is like THE social experiment of all social experiments. We have attempted to create a space, a country, where everyone else in the world could come and be free. Free to practice their own religion, free to speak however they wished, the opportunity to be represented in a way that they never had been before. That was the general idea at the genesis. However, there was a glaring problem – our forefathers were really only offering that freedom to white immigrants from specific places in Europe – notably England.
In 1750, Benjamin Franklin himself worried that a large number of “swarthy” foreigners, speaking their own language amongst themselves, would overrun the colonies and push out their own British subjects. The people in question? Germans.
It has been well documented how the United States has collectively treated immigrants that weren’t of direct British descent. We went to war with France not long after they aided us in our own revolution. We treated Irish immigrants as third class citizens and indentured servants. We drove Chinese immigrants out of cities starting in the 1800s and threw Japanese-American citizens into internment camps when WWII began.
And lest we forget that African Americans were not immigrants to the United States – they were forcibly taken from their home country, brought to our shores, were put into shackles, tortured, and forced to work until they died. The original inhabitants of our land, the Indigenous Americans, were also forced out of their home regions and purposefully killed to make room for more British immigrants.
Most Americans have been living on land that was never theirs, and the only ones who truly belong to this land are Indigenous Americans.
Do as many of my fellow American citizens feel that fact as deeply as I do? Probably not. But they do have a sense of it. We’ve become fascinated with finding out where we’re *really* from. There has been a ripple in the collective that shows we are uncomfortable with our history. There’s a longing to go back to the time (and places) before we committed such atrocities.
Now, I’m not arguing for some strange sort of nationalism where everyone should just “go back” to where they came from. That notion has been hijacked by white people who somehow don’t realize they should also be leaving when they say that (most often to people of color, and even more embarrassingly, to Indigenous Americans.) The whole story is important – horrific, yet important. Why?
I use the term “shadow work” a lot on this blog. To me, doing shadow work is taking an inventory of all of the parts of you that make you feel…icky, and transmuting them into energy that you can use to evolve and grow into a better version of yourself.
Knowing your ancestry and lineage are major keys in successfully traversing shadow work – not just on the individual level, but the collective level as well. The United States has a lot of shadow work to do, and it’s only just begun.
Your DNA carries energy from all of the ancestors who made it possible for you to be here today. You carry strength, determination, and fortitude in every strand. It also means you carry their sorrows, their traumas, and their losses with you as well. And if you aren’t aware of them, you may unconsciously be living out mental and emotional patterns around a trauma that you yourself may never have experienced firsthand – but you are still carrying it for those who did. In other words…all your sh*t may not even be yours.
There have been epigenetic studies done that support this theory, most notably one concerning Holocaust survivors and the DNA expressions of their children. You can read about this study here.
The easiest place to look first is at your parents. Who is your mother? What are her strengths or struggles? What was her early life like? What is your relationship like with her? What about your father?
Then you can branch out a bit more. What about your maternal grandparents? What were they like? What were their lives like? Your paternal grandparents?
Can you identify any patterns that repeat through the generations? Subconscious beliefs that seem to thread everyone together? “We always do _______ in my family” or “Everyone has _______.” What is the dominant story or narrative of your family line?
If you’re lucky like I am, you may have a relative who’s a family historian. Thank the Universe for my grandma. At this point, she’s spent years of her life tracing our family’s roots back to where we came from – Scandinavia, specifically Sweden and peppered into Norway. I believe the oldest match we have on record right now is from the 1700s.
My relatives didn’t begin their journey across the ocean until about the 1850s, which is actually quite a bit later than others – the first large immigration wave into the US was from about 1815 to 1849. The ‘Know-Nothing’ party is formed in 1849 to protest the increasing number of German and Irish immigrants, a year before our first journey.
Through letters and other miscellaneous forms, I felt connected to to one party of relatives in particular – a mother with two twin daughters who left her abusive husband in Sweden and took the voyage alone with her children to seek out a better life in America. To my knowledge, they did not sail into Ellis Island, and actually, quite a number of Northern European immigrants did not come through this way. It was cheaper to sail to Canada and then make their way through the rivers and channels…eventually ending up on the shores of Lake Michigan.
When I sit down and think about what the experience was like for a single mother, my heart just hurts. Really. Imagine leaving everything and everyone you know behind, being on a huge ship in the relentless Atlantic Ocean for up to six weeks, likely only to get on ANOTHER ship, to eventually make it to your destination where hopefully you’ve already made contact with someone else who lives there. Then you need to figure out how to obtain and set up a new home, food, and work, all while not speaking the same language as everyone else and getting discriminated against unless you were in the Scandinavian neighborhoods.
It seems that for as long as I can remember, I have struggled to use my voice. I have been afraid to speak in front of others, always feeling misunderstood in some way and have thought it better to keep my head down and stay quiet. I have always kept most at an arm’s length away – waiting and watching to see if they’re trustworthy enough in my eyes. Most people don’t make the cut – and it isn’t really their fault. And to this day, at 25 years old, I am still aggressively homesick every time I leave on a trip – even if it’s a trip that I’m excited about and really want to go on.
Is that all just my creation? Or is it possible that I inherited these tendencies from an ancestor who stayed quiet because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself, a foreigner? Who missed her homeland more than anything? Who was incredibly careful about who she trusted coming to this new land?
And, like most of our ancestors, she didn’t have the resources that we do today to deal with any of these issues. Therapy didn’t exist in the 1850s – it was called being committed to a mental asylum for the rest of your days. If you wanted to be free, you shut your mouth and you buried it as deep as you could within yourself. All the way down into your DNA. It had to be done to survive.
And because she locked up her pain and survived, I’m here now with traces of her and the rest of my ancestors’ pains and traumas. Am I angry with them? Of course not. They were doing the best they could with what they had. And I owe it to them to do the best I can with what I have – which is so much more.
In this field of metaphysics, it is said that when you heal something within you, it heals seven (7) generations behind you and seven (7) generations ahead of you. When you choose to do the work and heal, you’re not just doing it for yourself – you’re doing it for your grandmothers, great-grandfathers, your nieces & nephews, your great-great-granddaughters.
I have seen it happen in my own family. The more I confront my own shadows and traumas and heal them layer by layer, I see layers being shed off of my parents and even my sister. Our family has been through dark periods. I see them healing. I see them experiencing joy again. I see them smiling more. I see them more at home in themselves. Is that all due to what I’m doing? Probably not. They deserve credit for their own healing, too. But I know that I saw it begin to shift when I started, and I refuse to quit.
How do you get started?
- Therapy. I think everyone should go to therapy. You aren’t crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Everyone deserves to have someone to go to where you can just speak and be heard. You can talk about anything you want to, and it’s really helpful to have a party who isn’t involved who can offer an objective viewpoint.
- Get to know your family. You can’t begin if you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Learn your family’s story, as far back as you can reach. Who is your mother? (What are her strengths or struggles? What was her early life like? What is your relationship like with her?) Your father? Your maternal grandparents? Your paternal grandparents?
- Identify any repeating patterns or stories. Try to complete the sentences: “We always do _______ in my family” or “Everyone has _______.” What is the dominant story or narrative of your family line? Do you align with these patterns? Or can they be transformed and healed?
- Do the work. If you find any of these patterns or stories living within yourself or your own life, address them in a way that works for you, whether that be through traditional therapy, energy work, shamanic journey, working with plant medicine, hypnosis, self-work. Keep going. Every time you peel off even one layer, that’s a win for you and your family. Do it for yourself, but know that you aren’t just doing it for you. You’re doing it for the benefit of all.