“I don’t know, we didn’t ask”: What ancestry research can contribute to healing

It is almost like a causality: a traumatic experience can lead to a psychological trauma, which can lead to silence about the experienced, which then communicates the trauma to following generations, unknowingly. The trauma thereby impacts the whole family system.
What if there have been such traumata in past generations that because of the resulting silence I do not know about? What if I feel their impact in the family, but cannot name them? I deal with these questions by researching my ancestors. Silence as a communication pattern involves two ‘silent positions’: one that does not tell and one that does not ask. In ancestry research I ask and speak into the silence. I search for hints in the past that give my present meaning.
To contribute to a healing process within my family, I shared the findings of my ancestry research in different ways with family members. I included the findings into our family narrative and accompanied this process with oral history interviews. The thesis documents this work.

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At the age of fifteen, I started to research my ancestors. The urge to search came in waves over the years. In 2017, I took new paths in this research that unveiled unknown stories about deceased family members. These discoveries were emotionally difficult; at the same time, they sparked countless ideas of how to tell them.
Through the thesis project, the communication within my family intensified. In the oral history interviews, the voice recorder took on the role of a talking object in a talking circle. Gradually, I felt confident to remove the recorder and continue the meaningful conversation it had initiated. Finishing my project, I was completely raw, full of tears and exhausted. I have put my heart into this thesis and the result is priceless for me.

 

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