I had an amazing time at our family reunion last month.

One of the things I enjoy most about spending time with my extended family was all of the conversations and storytelling.

My family loves to talk and to tell stories.

As I chose the theme for our family reunion, I built it around our family stories. I believe that words are powerful. The words that we use to tell our personal narrative, and frame our family stories can uplift, and create greater bonds and connections.

They can also do the opposite.

For the family reunion theme, I chose “Our family is…” As we gathered, I chose words to describe our family both as we are, and what I would like for us to demonstrate more.

These are the words that I chose:

Our family is…

Brave

Loyal

Sensitive

Determined

Faithful

Tough

Compassionate

Obedient

Strong

Hard Working

Courageous

Diligent

Loving

I used a wood burning tool to write these words on blocks. I burned a corresponding maiden name or surname for one of our ancestors who embodied that characteristic on the back of each block. As I shared about each person, I flipped the blocks to reveal the names.

I wove the stories of our shared ancestors throughout our reunion. I told them before group activities. I told them with Lego bricks for our family talent show. I shared them in casual conversations over meals.

When we tell our family stories, we choose how to frame our family narrative. Click To Tweet

I believe sharing stories about our ancestors creates a sense of connection with each other and our past. It strengthens family bonds.

When we tell our family stories, we choose how to frame our family narrative. We can choose to speak truth. Truth as it is, and the truth we aspire to.

Our family is strong, because Rosena Yost Kohler was able to leave her homeland in Switzerland, with her husband and two young sons. It must have been difficult to leave for America knowing that she was also leaving behind the final resting place of her infant son who died a few months after he was born. What would have been Jacob’s first birthday was Rosena’s second day at sea journeying to a new country.

Our family is courageous, because William Behunin held his older brother as he died, after they were trapped in a snow storm on their way to camp to tend the herd of sheep.  He walked several miles in the snow to tell his mother the tragic news. His clothes were frozen to his body. In addition to the loss of his brother, he suffered permanent nerve and skin damage as a result of frostbite on his feet and ankles.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve thought a lot about the words I used to describe those maternal ancestors at the family reunion.

The words that I have been thinking about my newly discovered paternal, biological great- great grandfather, John Derszen are very different though.

Our family is…

Abusive

Alcoholic

Crazy

So far, most of what I have learned about him has not been positive nor uplifting.

Discovering my great- great grandfather has made me reflect a lot on my 40 fears. Especially, my 4th fear of alcoholism and my 34th fear of losing my mind.

I know that people are flawed,  and make poor decisions that can hurt family and friends. Sometimes, those decisions have lasting consequences that effect future generations.

I do not believe that a person’s life or value should be measured simply by the sum of their poor choices. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and looking for the good in a situation.

Yet, I have been struggling for the past two weeks to see the good in this man, and his life decisions.

Every family tree has shade, and some branches are shadier than others. These shady ancestors, like Grandpa John, are still part of who I am.  He is woven into my DNA in the same percentage as Rosena and William.

Grandpa John and those other shady ancestors are the part of me that I am most determined to change. beginning with how I am choosing to frame his life story, and our family story.

Our family is…

Resilient

Sober

Creative

Our family is proof that no matter where or who you come from, you can change.

Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week-  What words do you use to describe your family? Choose 1 to 3 positive words to re-frame your family narrative.

Bonus Points- Research the lives of your ancestors to learn more about your people who embody those characteristics.

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