We fetch our myths and legends, the stories that teach generation after generation, in the time before time. (Sylvia Vollenhoven)

We not only draw on the myths and legends told by generations past but we also, consciously and/or subconsciously carry norms and habits from our parents and their parents into the present as; those who came before us, contribute to the formation of our identities.

A few years ago I identified a sense of loss and longing within myself which, stemmed from an inability to (re)trace my family line and history more than three generations back on either (maternal or paternal) side of my family. The longing felt was directly connected to an absence of family history as a result of family members not openly discussing the past and; older relatives dying without sharing details about their lives and those who came before them. This desire to know more and the sense of hopelessness associated with not being able to find answers, translated into questions around my identity and cultural (be)longing. In addition to these feelings and questions, I felt a responsibility to ensure that from my life onward, the family tree would be clearer for future generations.

Imagine if 500-1000 years from now, no one remembered you, your life or, your purpose. Your trace was practically erased from existence and those carrying pieces of you did not know anything about the origins of those parts of themselves. With the internet, and advancements in technology, I believe we are in a better position to begin capturing our family history as well as the present, to ensure our future family members are not left with a void.

So, how do we do this?

Journal or Blog
Whether you are old school and prefer the tangible experience of pen to paper or, you are into the digital approach; it is worth capturing moments in your life from your perspective. A picture is only worth a thousand words if it is put into context. So take pictures, capture video footage and curate it so that the narrative your narrative is clear. And no, I do not mean a bunch of selfies on Instagram. If you do choose Instagram as your platform, tag the people featured in the images; add locations and; ensure your captions are descriptive and meaningful.

Tell Your Story
If or when you have children and grandchildren, talk to them. Tell them the stories your parents and grandparents told you, so that they are kept alive through the retelling of their stories. Storytelling predates writing and for generations this is how history was passed along but; if we stop sharing the history we know, it dies and becomes forgotten. If you are blessed to have older relatives who are still alive, it may be worthwhile to sit with them and audio-record (with their permission) as they reminisce about their lives; the good times, the hard times and anything they are willing to share.

Digitize the Documents
Any old photos, birth certificates, marriage certificates, letters, newspaper clippings, journals or other documents you may have access to which holds part of your family's narrative, needs to be preserved. So scan them, add labels and store them on a drive to prevent them deteriorating or getting lost or destroyed over time.

Discovery through DNA
I have not personally done this but, I know many people who have had their ancestry and genealogy retraced through family tree DNA testing. It is rather pricey to do however, most of these companies have developed large databases which not only allow you to discover your family's ethnic and geographic origin through your DNA but; also assists you in tracing and connecting with distant relatives around the world. This is high on my to-do list.

So, do not wait. Do it for yourself, your children and everyone who will come after you. Once lost, it is hard to ever retrace or retell these stories or; connect the dots which make up the full picture of your family. It is your responsibility.

[Photo: My Dad (Basil C Leonard) captured by my Mom (Alexandra M Leonard) years ago (date unknown)]


  1. So true. What a privilege it is for many to understand their family origins.  
    I took an ancestral DNA test and got my results a week ago, I've been thinking about nothing but family, culture, history and race for the last week. I will share my results with you via WhatsApp. I hope you too have a change to take the test. x 

    1. That is really awesome and I can’t wait to hear more about your results. Looking forward to reconnecting soon!


Powered by Blogger.