Last September I posted this on Facebook:
Who do you think you are?
I trained as an anthropologist and spent a lot of time reading and researching who other people thought they were.
Somehow in the process I got curious about my own heritage. As a result last weekend I met Jules, my fourth cousin – part of my matrilineal extended family!
We share an ancestor from Mexico City, Joseph Cassasola who married an English woman called Elizabeth and eventually returned here with their children (our great, great grandparents)
What stories has your family remembered? And which ones have been forgotten?
On reflection I suspect that I was born with a natural urge to explore where I come from. Of course the answer turns out to be, lots of places. It also made anthropology an obvious discipline for me. And I am glad because what I have learnt from the study of it has opened up my mind irrevocably even if, as one of the Grandmothers I interview in the forthcoming book Listening to our Grandmothers points out, the gifts of anthropology can also feel like a burden.
Our heritages are almost always diverse and surprising. The particular heritage I share with my fourth cousin Jules is traced through my maternal grandmother through her father to his Grandfather. The main reason I knew of my Mexican ancestor was that my Grandmother’s maiden name was Cassasola, which, though common in Mexico was a rare name in this country in the 1850s. This makes Joseph, and his wife, Elizabeth fairly easy to trace through birth, marriage and death records, something that Jules has done a great job of!
But as this story illustrates, if I am a little bit Mexican (a 36th I think), I am also a little bit of lots of other things too. Many of these I don’t have records of. In fact most of us have probably forgotten as much of our heritage as we have remembered. Our ancestors and communities, often for good reason, have selected what to pass down to us about who we are. And it may well be that has been forgotten is often more interesting than what is remembered.
In March this year I gave a talk entitled, Where do you feel at home? In it I explored the different ways that we can relate to and create a sense of being at home somewhere. This is deeply related of course to who we think we are. And we have choices here. In that talk I encouraged my listeners to explore what it would be like to approach life choosing to feel at home everywhere they went. I suggested that they might do this by focusing on the things that connect us rather than those that make us feel different. A taster of that talk is given in the image below. I hope to be able to share footage of it here very soon.
In choosing to record the stories of Grandmothers for my forthcoming project and, hopefully, in doing so, encouraging you to listen to the stories of the older women around you one of my main purposes is to deepen your sense of connection to multiple histories. Be that to the women that biologically came before you or to the deep wisdom women carry and that our society has so often chosen to neglect. By listening to, recording and sharing stories I have a profound sense that we quite literally make our own herstory. To stay a part of the Listening to our Grandmothers project please sign up for my mailing list or join the Facebook page here.