A couple of weeks ago, I happened upon a new television show, Who Do You Think You Are? - the premise if fairly basic, take a celebrity and using all means possible trace their family heritage. I am not one for reality shows, in particular celebrity reality shows, so I was surprised how quickly I became engrossed with the program. In fact, afterwards I went online and started searching for my own family tree.
My family is the quintessential stoic, stiff upper lip New England family, so very little family history has been passed on down since our motto has always been, no matter what happens - good, bad or indifferent - keep moving forward and keep it to yourself.
As a writer, I have a hard time keeping things to myself - to put it mildly, so in many ways I have always felt like I am an odd fit for my family. If I was not the spitting image of my father, and more closely his mother, I might wonder if I were adopted or a random stray picked up along the way.
My quest for my family history is not unique, but as I searched and found connections to people I have never met, I was struck by how swiftly I started picturing my ancestors in my writer’s mind; how easily I could imagine their lives and their stories; and how alive they felt to me as if they were characters cast in my current work in progress instead of long forgotten relatives lost to an unknown history.
Then, I realized why the reality show and my searching had such an impact on me - both elicited an emotional response. The very point of storytelling.
My research proved fruitful in more ways than I could have imagined. My Dad, whose parents died when he was very young, now knows more about where they grew up, what their childhood nicknames where, when they married, where their families are from.
On my Mom’s side of the family, I learned that there are other storytellers in my family, in fact my grandfather used to write stories. He also played minor league baseball with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Pretty cool!
Like real life people, our characters are alive. They live in our writer’s hearts and minds and then upon the printed page. We want our storytelling to matter, to leave a trace on this Earth, to have a lasting impact of some kind on our readers, just like we want to leave a trace in our own lives.
I am comforted to know I am not the only one in the family who enjoys telling a story. I don’t feel as out of place now. I also got a kick out of the realization that I used the first name of my great-great-great grandmother in my current work in progress without even knowing it. Maybe just a coincidence, but something tells me there is more to the story - no pun intended.
I have had a lot of ups and downs with my writing, and I’m sure my journey towards publications still has a few more bumps in the road before I hopefully find my way to a contract, but my need to tell a story, to leave a trace, is revitalized.
Who knew a reality television show could do all that.
To learn more about your story, go to: http://www.ancestry.com/. Good luck!