Who’s you mama? Who’s your daddy?

by Jen Baker and John LaMont

Conwy Castle in Wales, image courtesy of The Ancient Brit, via Flickr.Most of us at one time or another wonder about our ancestors: where they came from, how they got here and why they came. My family came from Germany, Wales and England and I’ve traveled to all three. Curiously, I made an emotional discovery in Wales – I felt I belonged there: I delighted in repeating town names like Llangollen and Aberystwyth and when I stayed over in Conwy, it felt like home. Why is that? Twenty years later (okay thirty) I researched the history of northern Wales and checked my family tree for the Miles brothers who came to America in 1799 from Wales. I found that the James and John Miles of Radnorshire, listed on my genealogy, were actually inhabitants of what is now Clwyd County where Conwy is! Do we have some sort of ancestral memory that goes beyond DNA?

Many fiction authors write about these déjà vu or dream connections with our ancestors – the covers of these books in the 1970s showed manor houses in the rain, sometimes with scared girls in nighties running about on the lawn. Readers who love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, beginning with Outlander in which Claire Randall travels back in time to confront her husband’s ancestor, will understand this fascination with ancestry. Novels allude to this tendency of the dead to stick around as in Francis Cottam’s The House of Lost Souls: sometimes a house ghost alerts the protagonist to a horrible crime from the past, or an object carries a message from the past to the right person, as in Louise Erdrich’s The Painted Drum. Or, even creepier, a familial ghost inveigles its way into a character’s life as a controlling influence, as in Sarah Waters’ book, The Little Stranger. Continue reading “Who’s you mama? Who’s your daddy?”