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Appendix 1

CONNECTING THE GENERATIONS THROUGH GENEALOGY

 

Family genealogy is one of the fastest growing markets on the Internet and a hobby of choice for many today. People on every continent are engaged in it.

The study of genealogy is the detailed pursuit of information about one's own family history using an instrument called a family tree, a chart that maps the lineage of one particular family member as far back as records allow. The family genealogist very often begins with the current generation of family and works backwards in their search for relatives, but they can also start with the oldest known generation and track it forward.

The over-arching purpose of a genealogical search is to give one a sense of their roots by finding out who their relatives were and where they came from. Included in the family tree will be parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and even extended family members like cousins and uncles and aunts, etc. The scope of the search is a highly personal decision that, in many cases, is limited by the available information that can be gleened from public records like birth and death certificates and even military documents.

A search of current generations typically entails interviewing living family members who are able to provide information about surnames of ancestors, dates and places of their birth and death, and marriages of known family members including how many children were born to those marriages. You ask them to relate to you anything and everything they can remember about the family. Your job is to record every detail. You may even need several visits to some of the older relations who tend not to remember details until long after you have left and they continue to think about the family events that you all discussed.

You generally need copies of your grandparent’s birth certificates and marriage certificates. A marriage certificate is a great link to the past. Even if the marriage certificate is not in your family’s possession, as long as your parents know the names of their parents and the marriage date, the certificate can be obtained from an Office of the Registrar of Births Deaths & Marriages.

The sky is the limit in terms of the information that one might like to find but most important are surnames and exact dates of birth and death. Immigration records and census records are important sources of information, as are local courthouses in counties and states where ancestors live (or lived). Other sources of information can include christening or baptismal certificates.

There are a variety of other types and sources of information that you may eventually find yourself wanting to access in your genealogy research: things like parish registers, tax records, census enumerator forms, wills, militia muster rolls, military service records, electoral rolls, and cemetary tombstones to name but a few.

Trips to cemeteries can be very fruitful. Take your camera with you and photograph the gravestones of all members of the family buried there. Photograph also the exact location of these plots so that others decades in the future can find the same place -- and be sure to show proximity to roads, signs, special trees or even buildings, whatever might be useful to you and others to pinpoint the location of family gravesites.

Sample gravestone

 

However, don’t forget those attic-bound boxes of old family mementos.

They can be a treasure-trove of family information including hand-written letters, old photographs with descriptions scrawled on the back, newspaper clippings, death announcements, family bibles with notations, photos of complete family groupings, etc.

 

AH, BUT THERE IS MORE -- MUCH MORE

Just collecting names and dates can be a sterile pastime even though this is where most genealogists tend to concentrate.

You should aim, as well, to gain an understanding of your ancestors and the kind of lives that they led. Finding out about where they lived and also researching the historical periods in which your ancestors lived will greatly enhance your overall understanding of your roots.

What they died of is as important as the fact that they died because death patterns can be important indicators of family process that should not be overlooked.

The term ‘Family History’ used to be regarded as synonymous with ‘Genealogy’ but that’s really not the case any more. A family history with documentation of repeating emotional patterns is essential and is one of the hallmarks of the Bowen Theory of family emotional functioning.

A detailed GENOGRAM documents all available 'facts' of a family's existence including membership over several or more generations of family.

The study of the family becomes particularly interesting when you are able to discern repeating patterns of divorce, patterns of deaths by specific causes, patterns of childbirths and stillbirths, as well as patterns of sibling constellations and their relationships to human successes and failures. Felony charges, hospitalizations, accidents, grand achievements, losses -- all of these things provide important clues to a family's functioning over time.

The patterns merge over the generations and provide a snapshot of a family’s general level of basic life anxiety out of which various individuals of mature functioning emerge (or not).

The Bowen Theory addresses just these kinds of patterns in families and it makes predictions about the emotional functioning of future generations based upon certain identifiable patterns and relationship facts from the past. The genogram is one of the clinical assessment tools that helps us to think systematically about how events and relationships are related to patterns of health and illness.

 

PATTERNS REPEAT

The nature of the beast is that patterns repeat and they do so at all levels of nature. Crystals, minerals, fractals, DNA, coast lines, weather, even tree shapes all evidence inherent structural patterns. Patterns are also common in many areas of mathematics, reoccuring decimals being one example.

To quote from Bowen Center publications:

“Bowen family systems theory is a theory of human behavior that views the family as an emotional unit and uses systems thinking to describe the complex interactions in the unit. It is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Often people feel distant or disconnected from their families, but this is more feeling than fact. Family members so profoundly affect each other’s thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same “emotional skin.” People solicit each other’s attention, approval, and support and react to each other’s needs, expectations, and distress. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person’s functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others. Families differ somewhat in the degree of interdependence but it is always present to some degree.”

 

Attention to such things is critical in any effort to discern patterns of family emotional functioning across the generations. The data is there, it just takes a little extra effort to ask the right questions and to get the FACTS that genealogists are so famous for. It then takes a little more effort to put those facts into some kind of ORDER.

The facts will ultimately speak for themselves.

 

ESCALATING ANXIETY

When family members get anxious about something the anxiety escalates by spreading infectiously among them. As the anxiety goes up certain family members begin to feel overwhelmed, or isolated, and soon symptoms of depression or relationship cutoffness erupt in them. These represent the most vulnerable and anxious family members, i.e., those more caught up in what Dr. Bowen calls the family projection process.

These emotional lineages can be tracked down the generations of a family in the form of a family genogram which is a unique visual representation of a family. A genogram typically includes three or more generations and it shows how different family members are biologically and legally (and emotionally) related from one generation to the next.

The genogram also shows relationships among family members such as the strength of emotional ties, patterns of illness and causes of death, types and dates of significant life events, and significant life stressors for family members.

This information is portrayed in coded form and in a standardized way, such that important patterns can be gleaned. Basic data include name, current age or age at death (or date at birth and date at death), cause of death, occupation, marital/relationship status and history of same, as well some indication of conflictual, overclose and distant or cutoff relationships among and between family members.

The genealogist has access to exactly this kind of information but they don’t know what to do with it. Consequently it is often discarded in the inquiry process.

 

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