52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 1 — Fresh Start

I learned about this from Galina Krasskova’s blog. It’s a project run by a genealogist that gives writing prompts throughout the year. I think it’s an excellent idea, and I’m excited about it for a few reasons. First, I genuinely love Ancestor veneration and genealogy, which are very closely linked for me. Second, I love writing. I strongly believe writing is part of the sacred work I am supposed to be doing, and it has the additional benefit of helping me to process things — these days it also helps with my memory. Third, I am planning on sharing (modified) versions of what I write for most of these prompts with one of my living relatives, who I love very much. Fourth, it does not require any participation on social media. Fifth, it will hopefully help me get back into both Ancestor veneration, which I have been lax in, and also into blogging here, which I believe I’m supposed to do.

There’s a prompt each week, and I may not do them all. I keep feeling like maybe I shouldn’t do them all, though that irks the perfectionist in me. But some I definitely and strongly feel like I should do, or at least I should write about the things they bring up. At the moment I’m way, way behind on this project, but I’m trying to catch up.

The relevant links are here:

General information and Sign-up:

https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52ancestors52weeks/

https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks/

Prompts or Themes for Each Week in 2020:

https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks-2020-themes/

There are questions and answers on the website itself, but important information is that it’s free to do, it doesn’t require 100% completion, sharing online or on social media is gently encouraged but in no way required, and there is one prompt for each week of the year.

Next, I want to talk about how I will most likely be doing this prompt. For most people doing this, I’m assuming there will be lots of names and dates and pictures. Part of me would love to do that, and I may even do that for several of the prompts. But for some of them, I will be more vague. There are a lot of reasons for that. First, I get the impression that some of my Ancestors don’t want their information shared publicly. I can definitely understand that because another reason for my vagueness is that I am an intensely private person. I’m an introvert, I have social anxiety, and I have illnesses and disabilities that make it difficult for me to consistently communicate with people. I also have little desire for my personal life and private information to be on the internet for public consumption, and that desire has drastically decreased as I have watched people weaponize such information against others and also as I’ve come to understand how truly awful for me, personally, social media usually is.

There are also safety reasons for my vagueness (though the weaponizing of information is often a safety issue in and of itself). Because of the society I live in and the things and people it prioritizes, de-prioritizes, and scapegoats, it is within the realm of possibility that I could lose my living situation, what little financial security I do have, access to necessary medical care, and even the insurance that provides my life-saving medicine if certain details of my life or living situation were known. I am probably being overly cautious here, especially on this blog, as opposed to another I have, but it is still a reality I live with.

Additionally, one of my exes is stalker-ish. I’m not in any danger from that person, nor do I believe I ever will be — hence, the “ish” — and I believe most of their tendencies in that department stem from mental illness, but I don’t want them following me online, and I don’t want to do anything that they could erroneously construe as encouragement.

However, because genealogy and ancestor veneration both often deal with names, dates, and photos, there is a much more significant chance that revealing some of those specific details could reveal my identity than there would be if I were talking about more general stuff. This is even more true because many of my relatives and ancestors share the same names, there’s a strong family resemblance on one side of my family, and that particular ex knows the full names of many of my living family members and the surnames of several branches of my family tree. Additionally, because of the intense bioregional nature of my religion, and my life in general, I don’t think I’d be able to effectively and honestly use this blog for its intended purpose if I lied about my location or disguised it much — though I obviously don’t plan on revealing it exactly.

Finally, some of my living relatives either want or need privacy. One person I’m related to by marriage specifically did not want to be on my family tree on Ancestry, nor have any of their relatives on it. Two of my biological relatives, while encouraging my interest in ancestry and genealogy, expressed concern about how much people could find out about us through genealogy. On top of that, I have a few relatives who work in, for, or with the federal government. They aren’t high level or in positions of power, but they are in positions such that needed specific security clearances — and background checks were done on our family because of those clearances. Theoretically, nothing I reveal on this blog could cost them their jobs, or hurt their employment prospects, but I’d rather not take chances.

So, erring on the side of privacy and circumspection, it is. But I love my Ancestors, I want to honor them, and I do want to keep them in my thoughts, write about Them, and share their stories. I also want to blog more — or at least, I should blog more. And this seems like a good way to do all of that.

A few of the ways I plan on achieving this include:

  1. Often not including pictures, particularly when it is someone I share a strong family resemblance with.
  2. Not usually giving full names, particularly if it is a name shared by many members of my family, or if it is a surname known by one of my exes. Sometimes I’ll give a first name, sometimes only a married or maiden name (in the case of women), and sometimes only initials.
  3. Not always including dates.
  4. Not always giving locations, or being very general about locations.
  5. Sometimes being non-specific about directly how I’m related to some relatives (for example, saying, “an ancestor of mine,” instead of, “my great-great-uncle” — especially in some cases where I otherwise give more direct information about the ancestor I write about.
  6. Sometimes talking about specific groups of my ancestors and beloved dead, without mentioning individual names.

That said, there probably will be times when I post pictures, state explicit relationship degrees, and give locations, dates, and full names. It will depend on the situation.

I mentioned earlier that I hope to send at least some of these writings to one of my living relatives. I hope to share with them what I write, discuss the prompts with them, and see if they can tell me anything related to the prompts. This person has encouraged my interest in genealogy and has been one of the two primary sources for information about my family that I have. They are also one of the two people I’m closest to in the world. They will probably only live for another fifteen years, at most, and I would make an educated guess of six to ten years. Additionally, I have higher than average of odds of dying younger than most people my age in my country do. Ergo, I want to talk about and share as much of this as possible with the person I’m talking about. However, I also mentioned that if I do, I’d be sending them modified versions. On the one hand, they’ll get a more detailed picture than readers of my blog because I’ll include details like names, dates, locations, and relationships with them. But on the other hand, even with as close as we are, they are still one of the only two people in my life who doesn’t explicitly know I’m Pagan, and I don’t plan on telling them. It’s ironic that they don’t know, given information I’ll get into later, but if they did, I believe it would cause them a considerable amount of worry, and I don’t want to do that. So, if things I send them are obviously Pagan, polytheist, animist, or ancestor venerating, I’ll modify them so that those connections are less obvious. Additionally, because I believe it’s a good idea to venerate ancestors of lineage and experience, as well as blood, adoption, and marriage, it’s likely that for at least a few of the prompts, I won’t be writing about biological ancestors — which wouldn’t make much sense outside of religious context.

Next, I want to talk about about where I’m coming from. I mentioned that this is a genealogy project; I also mentioned I’m Pagan (my particular flavor of which includes polytheism, animism, and ancestor veneration). That said, I’m not a “Big Name Pagan/polytheist” — and I am coming to avidly dislike that term. I’m not a religious leader, or a leader of any kind, for that matter. I am not a genealogist — I wouldn’t even consider myself an amateur one. I am not an expert. The challenge is not run by a Pagan or polytheist (that I know of), and most of the people who participate in it probably will not be, either.

While in some ways my childhood and teen years were extremely difficult, in other ways I was very blessed and fortunate. While most of my family members did not attend religious services regularly, there were a decent amount of people in my life who held their beliefs very strongly and had personal relationships with the Deities they prayed to. Additionally, one of my family members did attend services regularly, and two others went through cycles where they attended regularly, and so went they went, I attended with those three people. I was also exposed to a fairly large variety of religions/lack of religions when I was growing up including, different denominations of Christianity, non-denominational Christianity (in the personal, but not evangelical sense), non-denominational monotheism (not one of the big three monotheistic religions), Judaism, atheism, agnosticism, and even some New Age. Later I also got exposed to evangelical Christianity.

As a young child, I was taught the importance of prayer, and that I should pray when I was afraid, as well as being taught nightly prayers. This backfired somewhat because I have OCD and developed compulsions around it, but the principles of what they tried to teach me were sound. For the most part, my family was very open to letting me explore different religions and beliefs and figure out what I believed (there were exceptions later on, and also later, not everyone was aware of all my explorations). Most of my relatives were animal lovers, some were nature lovers, and one in particular taught me to respect and care for plants. Because of that, the animism that I suspect a lot of kids have inherently was nurtured in me. Because I was a fearful child, they did discourage belief in some “supernatural” entities — like ghosts and monsters — until I was older, but they didn’t discourage my belief in those that didn’t scare me — such as The Fair Folk and merfolk. Maybe because I was fearful, maybe because I was sensitive, maybe because I had a wild imagination, maybe due to some combination of all three, their discouragement of my belief in entities that frightened me usually didn’t take. The New Age beliefs I was exposed as a child and teen were very beneficial to me. They were less of the “love and light” variety and more of the psychics and mediums variety. From that and from one of my relatives looking into it in other ways, I was exposed to, and came to believe in, the concept of reincarnation (at least as a possibility) very young.

Many of the things I listed above were blessings and helped me with my religious beliefs when I got older. But purely from perspective of ancestor veneration, being taught from a young age the concept that our ancestors and beloved dead continue to watch out for us after we die was extremely helpful to me and it was (and remains) a particular blessing. I’ve heard many, many Pagans and polytheists say they think humans instinctively venerate our dead, and I completely agree.

My family took it a step further. We didn’t venerate our ancestors in the polytheistic sense, and I think a few of my relatives would be appalled to think that’s what we were doing — just as I suspect a lot of people in western civilizations who honor their dead would be at the concept of veneration. We sometimes, but not usually visited tombstones (I hope to get into that in another post), but most of what we did was other stuff, and not too different from what I think most people do, but it seemed with a bit more…emphatic belief, for lack of a better way of putting it. We genuinely believed our ancestors were aware of what was going on in our lives, and looking out for us from an after life. We believed they came to visit us, and we felt their presence when they did. We were aware of signs from them. We told their stories and made their recipes. We held onto objects that had belonged to them. We had pictures up of them. In at least one instance, we visited a place that was important to some of them in life. But most importantly, we talked to them and we listened for them to communicate with us. A series of happy memories from my childhood involves a combination of wishing one of our ancestors a happy birthday and an acknowledgement of Spring. One of my great-great grandmothers was born on a day that is often the Spring Equinox. One of the things we did when I was little on the Spring Equinox was to say, “Happy Birthday ______!” using the term of endearment for that relative. To this day, I often exchange that greeting/acknowledgement with one of my living relatives, and these days, it something I try to remember to say on my own on her birthday while thinking of her. None of these things involved shrines, nor were they done in the context of ancestor veneration or animism, they were just what we did and what we believed. And I am so, so grateful for those beliefs, actions, and ways of being in the world.