Laura Hedgecock

Apr 162015
Author Judith Fein emotional genealogy

Author Judith Fein writes about emotional genealogy

Today, I’m particularly pleased to present a guest post by Judith Fein and her concept of emotional genealogy.

When I gave my first talk about the power of Emotional Genealogy, I wondered if anyone would be able to connect to what I was speaking about. To my surprise, audience members asked questions for over an hour, and then they continued with personal questions for another half an hour.

You may be wondering what Emotional Genealogy is. Briefly, it involves examining how the behaviors of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents influenced who we are and how we are in the world. And it doesn’t matter if we knew them or not. We carry their legacy and act out the repetitive pattern of their life scripts.

Ghost Ranch Emotional Genealogy

Ghost Ranch Red Rock Cliffs; Photo credit

With a blend of curiosity and uncertainty, I put out the word a few months ago that my husband and I would be giving an Emotional Genealogy workshop and arranged for it to take place at the Ghost Ranch Retreat Center.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, is infused with magic. The ochre-red-magenta cliffs form an ever-changing backdrop as the sun dances around, chasing shadows, darting behind cotton-puff clouds.

Georgia O’Keeffe called Ghost Ranch home, and the trees, rocks, and mountains in her paintings still stand today, waiting for her to come back and paint some more.

Ancestral people began living in the area 9,000 years ago, and 500 archeological sites attest to their brief and longer sojourns on the land. It was this ancestral depth of the ranch that inspired me to choose it as the place to lead the first Emotional Genealogy workshop.

All that was required of participants was a willingness to look backwards, forwards, and inside. And radical honesty. They didn’t have to say nice things that they thought were expected of them. They would be family for the weekend, in a safe, welcoming place.

Participants came from all over the mainland U.S., Hawaii, and Canada. They came with secrets, questions, dark, unexplored areas in their lives. They came with courage, humor, honesty, confusion, humility. They came like flashlights that unflinchingly looked to the past to better understand the present.

emotional genealogy eys of ancestors

“And eyes—sad, sexy, secretive, haunted, arrogant, tender—stared out from photos, beckoning and challenging us to learn what was behind them.”

Each was told to bring an object or photo from an ancestor. And a common shrine was built. A watch, rings, and jewelry seemed to vibrate with the energy of those who once wore them. And eyes—sad, sexy, secretive, haunted, arrogant, tender—stared out from photos, beckoning and challenging us to learn what was behind them.

As each person held an object, and spoke about it, it was like Proust’s madeleine. It took them back to memories, smells, sounds, tastes of growing up with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. It provides a safe physical bridge to cross over to the past.

Everyone was asked to bring a camera—in most cases, it was the camera in a cell phone. They took photos of physical traits that linked them back to those who came before them.

Each of the participants was different—in age, talents, accomplishments, religion, and personal history. But there was a startling commonality that bound everyone.

One of the threads that ran through so many lives was shame. Not for what they had done, but for what their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors had done. It was as though what their forebears did had somehow become their story, and they felt implicated—as they though they had done it, or inherited it, or would pass it on.

Another theme was lack of maternal love: mothers who were unwilling or unable to provide physical and emotional security, affection, solace, and caring because of their own limitations, blind spots, mental illness, or emotional genealogy. In some cases, the cruel hand of fate removed a mother through death.

A third thread was absence: adults who were physically there, but emotionally remote or not present. Or who sent their children away to orphanages, boarding school, foster families, or to live with other family members.

There were shared stories of violence, emotional and physical trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, lying, secrets, scathing words, denial.

The goal was not to dwell on problems, but to look at what each of us inherited emotionally, and how we can transform that inheritance, release it, or release our fear of it in order to live fuller, more satisfying lives. We had to separate our own story from the story of those who came before us. Their mistakes were not ours. We had to swing open the closet door and look fearlessly at the skeletons that were rattling around in there. And then we had to close the door. There was forgiveness, self-forgiveness, commitment to make better, freer choices.

Before we undertook this exploration, we used cornmeal to ask permission of the land and our ancestors. At the end of the exploration, after we laughed, and sighed, and felt release, we used cornmeal again to thank the land and our ancestors, for allowing us to do such important work for us and for the generations that follow us.

The field of behavioral epigenetics suggests that behavior patterns are actually passed down in our genes. As our lives progress, something turns those genes on….and, presumably, something can turn them off.

To me, is the best, most welcome turn-off in the world!

X   x     x     x

Judith Fein, an award-winning international travel journalist, speaker, and workshop leader, wrote about her own Emotional Genealogy in her wonderful book, The Spoon from Minkowitz. You can read more about Emotional Genealogy at   Judith’s website is

Apr 102015
Write about average and it comes alive

When you write about average, others look at the details and see something a lot more compelling than simply “average”.

Average gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as not enough rap. We seldom hear about him or her.

For instance, you never see Average’s mom post about his achievements on Facebook. “Congratulations to my son Average who achieved something that most kids achieve.” Instead, we see the parents of Average’s friends posting about their kids achieving all the things Average tried to achieve, but fell just a tad short. “Congratulations to my child Superior who achieved something momentous. My kid is wonderful beyond belief and worked so hard. #mykidisintheroomwithme #Imjustanattentionwhore.”

Okay, the hashtags are imagined, put in my head by a hilarious teenager. (I’m withholding her name to protect the snarky.) But the post isn’t imagined. Its equivalent passes through our news feeds on a regular basis. Continue reading »

Apr 032015
Are you a cousin? Are you related to AJ Jacobs

At RootsTech, we all held up “I am a cousin” signs. We’re all related to AJ–and to each other! (Photo credit RootsTech)

Because it’s not really about AJ and me. It’s about the fact that we’re all related—by blood, adoption, and marriage. Well, in a way it’s about AJ, since he’s the one organizing the Global Family Reunion. Continue reading »

Mar 312015
Going back in a Holodeck

Going back via a mental Holodeck

We all know that going back home isn’t an option. But a girl can dream.

Last week, as the plane approached Greenville-Spartanburg (South Carolina) International Airport, the sight of red clay gave me a twinge. Home beckoned like a taunt. “Come back… Oh yeah. I forgot… You can’t.”

In my defense, I’m not trying to go back. I’m here to live in the present. To spend time with the people I love now. But, however much my intellect knows that going back isn’t possible, it can’t control my heart. The past, unbidden, beckons in my psyche. Continue reading »

Mar 232015
Cross my heart stories

Because we didn’t say them lightly, the promises we made make great stories

Remember (if you’re approximately my age) how we used to cross our hearts and “hope to die”? We’d earnestly pledge ourselves to some action or affection, pantomiming the heart crossing as if we (in my case, good Southern Baptist girls) were genuflecting.

Today, kids pinky swear. To me, pinky swearing doesn’t carry the same weight as our covenants made on the pain of a-needle-in our-eye injury. But what do I know? As much as I assuredly meant all those promises (unless, of course, I somehow managed to cross my fingers behind my back as I gesticulated the heart crossing on my front), I can’t remember many of my hope-to-dies. The one I do remember was to remain lifelong friends with Sally Moore. I lost touch with Sally a few years after she moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, which for my 12-year-old perspective. might as well have been Peru. Continue reading »

Mar 172015

How do the stories you tell affect your loved ones’ image of you?

Through your stories, you’re providing context that your loved ones will use to understand you better. In essence, you’re projecting an image. For instance, when you share multiple memories about raising your children, your loved ones will come to think of you, and understand you better, as a parent. Which is great. But, there’s something better. Continue reading »

Mar 122015
Writing with you heart on your sleeve

Writing with your heart on your sleeve helps your readers to connect with you. And that’s what it’s all about, right?

One of the most rewarding parts of sharing your memories and stories is those moments when the big picture comes alive. When you see in someone’s reaction that you connected. Writing with your heart on your sleeve increases the likelihood of that happening.

The memory collector has a different role than the average narrator. You’re part of the story. You add context. When you expose your more vulnerable side, you allow readers to see the world through your glasses.

It comes down to building trust with your readers—your loved ones. The better they know you, the more they will trust your vision—your filter—of the stories you’re telling. More importantly, writing with your heart on your sleeve helps form that palpable the connection with your readers. Continue reading »

Mar 062015
Read my blog

Since you’re here, you might as well start with #11! Infographic used with permission.

If a well-respected genealogical website said you should read this blog (and 13 others), would you follow instructions?  I hope so, since that’s what Crestleaf’s blog is saying.

In my new favorite post, Crestleaf lists 14 Blogs You Might Not Be Reading but You Should! Of course, it should be pointed out, that when it comes to Crestleaf, I’ve been preaching to the choir. They offer a system by which you can put your photos into context and digitize your stories.

To make it doubly nice, they’ve saddled me with some great company. Join me in checking out all these blogs that make it easier to tell your own and your family’s stories.

Thanks Crestleaf!

If you’re landing here for the first time, the related links below make some great starting points.

Mar 032015
Making your stories public

Is making your stories public like acting your life out on stage?

There’s sharing and then there is sharing. One of the more difficult decisions memory collectors and memoirists make is how public we want to make our stories.

Making your stories public can be difficult. Sharing everything is akin to living life out on a public stage and can make sharing your imperfections hard. I remember watching The Jetson’s as a child and thinking how intrusive the video phones were. Jane had her “morning mask” that she used to answer it, but what if the house were dirty?

Even today, before I skype or hangout on Google, I go put on a nicer shirt, brush my hair, and wish plastic surgery were an option. Continue reading »

Feb 262015
Memories Family Stories and community learning

Memories, family stories, and community learning were all featured on this episode of Dear Myrtle’s Wacky Wednesday

Dear Myrtle, “Your friend in Genealogy since 1955,” was the would-be storyteller’s friend on her February 25, 2015 Wacky Wednesday show (embedded below). And, as the guest on her show, I got a great taste of community learning. Continue reading »