Sometimes it's blood memory... not the blood your mother and father gave you... but that which stretches back two or three thousand years. - Martha Graham
SWAN sisters (Norwegian side of family)
"For perhaps we are like stones; our own history and the history of the world embedded in us."
-Susan Griffin, A Chorus of Stones
Many cultures around the world believe in ancestral genetic memory, and the science world is starting to catch up to this ancient knowledge:
When I hear people dismiss family or world history, particularly related to cultural genocide, colonial oppression and enslavement, I am stunned. The past is always with us, right here, right now, in our blood and bones. We walk hand in hand with generations of ghosts, the impact of history, palpable; its impact, burrowed and burned into the landscape of each person and place and thing.
The concept of blood memory (and time overlapping, akin to a folded blanket or spiralling loop) inspired Becoming Leidah. My own piecing together of a family tree fed the process, as well as wonderings about genetic evolution: what have we inherited from our experience as animals? Can there be traces of this in our genetic memory?
In 2017, my son and I travelled to Norway. I was determined to walk the forests and fields of my relatives, but at that time, had no idea of their exact historical location. I trusted my gut, and felt I had to be somewhere between Oslo and Bergen, as well as above the Arctic circle near Svolvær. At one point on the road trip, my 9 year old son turned to me and said, "We've found home." After returning to Canada, I finally received ancestry information that I had been hoping to have before the trip. It confirmed what we knew in our bodies as we travelled: we had followed the path of our ancestors perfectly.
Somehow, all of this led to writing the fictional story of Leidah; at times, it felt as though the story was writing me. The characters knew what they needed to say, and the story came in pieces (a patchwork quilt that needed to be stitched together). Like memory, it felt fluid and changeable, a whirlpool of swirls and eddies that sometimes vanished, only to reappear months later, just at the right moment. Always at its core, the process was driven by a knowing, a persistent current that pushed and directed the words on the page.
I have traced my Norwegian line back to 1482; I am still working on my mother's family tree (and collecting photos). Thanks to my dad Wade, and his cousins Linda, and Janet for these wonderful photos of my Norwegian relatives. They also confirmed what I had been wondering about for years: my father's maternal Norwegian line carries Saami ancestry from northern Norway.
Ancestral Memory &
The first time I heard the phrase 'blood memory', I was a young dancer, studying Martha Graham technique. The idea intrigued me; the possibility that we could inherit far more than just eye or hair colour, that we could in fact inherit traces of trauma or emotion from generations ago—was a bit mind blowing. I started asking myself, what is working through me, on an unconscious level? What has been passed down through the blood line, particularly from the women in my family?
Above, me, age 1 year
Below, mom Anna, age 9
Below, my mom Anna at 17, with my brother
My dad (Lyall) Wade, at 2, 6, 11 yrs and graduation high school below
Left: My dad as a baby, with his mom Vivian and grandma
Below right, my grandpa Lyall (Vivian's husband)
Below: great grandma Edith (as a child) who became a Christian Scientist; she was said to have cured herself of gangrene of the leg, with only prayer. She married George Grierson; her parents are my great-great grandparents Adam Neuart and Jane Bartley
Below: My great, great grandparents Andrew Smedstad and Ingeborg Nelson, from Norway, with son Arnold, 1888
Above, Samuel Swan and Christina Stemson, Norway, 1889
Great great grandparents
Below, their family (8 girls and one boy) - Neela (their daughter, right) married Arnold Smedstad (above right)
Above, Great grandfather Arnold Smedstad, who married Neela below
Left: Arnold and Neela Smedstad (my great grandparents)
Above, daughters, Vivian, Wilda and Lois
Above, 1938 - reminds me a little bit of my own 2 dogs (both are Norwegian buhunds)
Left, a post card to Neela