By Dorian Martin, I Start Wondering Founder
Somewhere in the last few weeks, a social media post asked, “Was 2017 a year of answers or a year of questions?” What a provocative query! For me it was a year of answers that made me realize how many fictional stories are part of my life.
The year 2017 started with fog, thanks to a cataract. The blurry eyesight helped me get in touch with what my heart was saying, instead of adopting the story line that emerges when focusing only on appearances. In a sense, I was honing my inner journalist. I have become more alert to all matters of “fake news,” both in the information presented to me and the stories I tell myself.
Delving into Family History
This year’s biggest dose of fiction came courtesy of Ancestry.com. I can track my maternal lineage into the 1600s. However despite my best attempts, my paternal family tree stops with my great grandparents. I also couldn’t find key information – such as birth certificates — for either paternal grandparent.
The first break in my investigation was found in my father’s safe deposit box. Before her death, my mother stowed a letter dated in the late 1920s that revealed a change in the paternal family name. (My father never remembered seeing this letter.) The letter’s contents opened up discussions that eventually led to the discovery that my paternal grandmother emigrated as a child from Russia to the United States.
It took longer to determine my grandfather’s background. Family lore indicated that he was born in Connecticut, but Ancestry.com didn’t offer any supporting documents.
This fall, I formed a different hypothesis. Since we knew that my paternal last name had been quietly changed, what if the same was true for my grandfather’s first name? Researching using this angle led to revelations. Sure enough, U.S. Census records indicate that my grandfather’s first and last names differ from those given to him at his birth. Furthermore, my paternal grandfather’s family also emigrated from Russia when he was a boy.
Unforeseen Plot Twists
These findings turned my sense of self upside down. While one story that I had grown up with – my grandfather was a very successful businessman – was still true, other stories were left in shambles.
Still, these findings shed light on incongruities in my relationships with my grandparents. They also helped explain why my father could never tell me much about his family’s past. In a sense, our family history had been meticulously swept away. In its place, a new story – one based totally on fiction – had been created.
Writing a New Chapter
So where do I go from here as we enter 2018? First of all, I realize that it is my time to author the family story. While much has changed, some of my paternal family’s characteristics – an ability to adapt, a strong work ethic, a drive to succeed – can be reintegrated into the story.
However, the generational discoveries also have made me determined to avoid creating a fictional life. Instead, I want to create a life that is based on authenticity and individuality.
I hope you, too, will join me in using the start of a new year to evaluate your life. Where are you creating an experience that is out of alignment with who you are? Where can you ask insightful questions in order to gain answers that lead to groundbreaking truths? What is fiction? What is real?
Here’s to the unfolding possibilities of 2018 and creating a new chapter in your life!