Deep Genealogy

Genealogy—the study of family lines of descent—has become increasingly popular in recent years. Part of this is the availability of so many online resources to trace family trees. In addition, TV shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Genealogy Roadshow, and Finding Your Roots have shown viewers the kinds of discoveries that can be made. Even the popular Outlander books and Starz TV series by Diana Gabaldon may be helping since genealogy plays a significant part in that fictional 200 year family saga.

I got my start as one of my generation’s family genealogists about ten years ago in a class on Terrapsychology taught by Craig Chalquist PhD. Looking at family patterns and themes was part of looking at connection to place. Long before that class my mother had sent me family trees for both her and my father’s families, provided to her by relatives. I glanced at them then and put them in a file. Below are four sets of ancestral grandparents from my family tree:

Some of my family tree

When I pulled the trees out for class I got hooked. I was a history major in college, and genealogy is about history, to however broad or narrow a view you wish to adopt. A number of my ancestral families had already been researched in detail by others, and much of the information was available online. I discovered that one branch of my family had been among the earliest French immigrants to Canada in the 1600s (LeMay). Another came from England to Virginia about the same time (Yancy). Two other branches came from Ireland to Canada (Lalley) and Ireland to the U.S. (Cassidy) in the 1850s. I have ancestors who fought in the revolutionary war, and on both sides of the civil war.

How does one apply depth psychology to genealogy? C.G. Jung looked at his family tree and wrote about the influence it had in gaining knowledge of his own identity. Depth psychology is in part about identifying patterns, and all families have generational patterns. Sometimes the patterns can change when one generation brings hidden stories out of the shadow into the light. For example, in a number of episodes in all the genealogy TV series, participants found that broken families were unknowingly present for generations, and connect their commitment to family as a way to change patterns of brokenness not consciously held by them, but felt nonetheless. In other episodes actors, politicians, or activists were surprised to find they were carrying on an ancestral pattern. In my family a desire for schooling was often denied by need to support a family or lack of money to continue to learn. I broke that pattern to not only graduate from college, but go on to get a Masters’ degree.

Another way to practice deep genealogy is to bring an openness to synchronicities to the search. Our minds may tell us that something we discover is a coincidence, but our heart and our gut will often recognize the significance of the find. There’s often a strong “ah ha” feeling that brings light and awareness to our consciousness.

Watching the TV shows about genealogy listed above, its often possible to notice when a participant is hit with synchronicity rather than coincidence. The first U.S. season of Who Do You Think You Are? featured an episode with football player Emmit Smith, who was trying to find his ancestors before slavery. When helping him look for the father of a half-white ancestor, an historian pulled down a numbered journal. Smith looked at the number on the journal—22—and told the researcher, “I’ve been wearing jersey number 22 since college” and commented that it made him feel nervous that the answer to his family history might be contained in a book with that number on it. And it was there. (And that part of his story starts at about minute 22 in the non-commercial video.)

There are steps one can take to prepare for synchronicity. Craig listed some in his class. Start with immediate family (both birth and adopted). Ask people questions that encourage stories, not just facts, and listen (maybe even record it that’s all right). Your parents’ and grandparents’ generations can talk about what they heard as family lore. Be aware that those generations may feel reluctant to talk about scandal or what was perceived as disgrace. It’s best not to push, but to just give room for that to be talked about. Or one can identify the family gossips who will often talk about anything. And know that family stories are sometimes not true. My father’s mother claimed she was married to his birth father, but years of research have shown they never did marry. On the other hand, her story of being related to the outlaw John Wesley Hardin IS true.

Older family members can tell you who moved when, and where, and what they did for a living. Did they serve in the military? Were babies lost at birth? Ask to see photos. Are there family trees you can look at? (Many family trees are online). Most of us now carry the capability to make jpegs or pdfs of pictures and documents in our phones and other mobile devices. Write down the names of people (including maiden names) and relationships of people in pictures. If there is writing on the back of the photos, take images of both sides. Trust me—you won’t remember in a week, especially if you have jpegs of 20 photos to upload and name. Ask to look at old letters. One of my best finds was all the letters my father wrote his mother while he was in the army from 1948-1951. If you find yourself getting hooked, ask to look at birth, baptismal, marriage, and death certificates, and image those as well. If you have an openness to depth and immanence my experience is that the patterns and synchronicities will be present for you as you sit with what you have learned. For those drawn to ancestor veneration having discussions with them using depth psychology’s active imagination can also offer a new perspective on family history, especially in addition to gathering facts and knowledge.

The most profound synchronicity I experienced when I began studying my family tree revolved around universities. When I was a senior in high school in the 70’s I applied to four universities, two in California and two out of state. While I chose to attend one of the California schools, I was accepted at all four. As I looked at my ancestors I realized that one of those two out of state schools, Marquette University in Wisconsin, was at the center of a 150 mile radius of where three branches of my family (LeMay, Cassidy, and Lalley) settled in the U.S. The second, the University of Dallas, was about 150 miles away from the Texas branch of my family tree (Yancy). I had no idea when I applied to those schools (I considered twenty or so all over the country) that I was being pulled home. Ironically, I still haven’t visited either of those locales.

In addition to being near my family homes, I discovered that Marquette University is the only place in the U.S. that has a probable relic of Joan of Arc. My middle name is Jeanne, and she is my patron saint by Catholic reckoning, and my personal myth by my sense of self . Those discoveries in Craig’s class have kept me involved with genealogy ever since.

Lola McCrary is a member of the Immanence Editorial Board. She has an M.A. in Integral Psychology from John F. Kennedy University and currently works as a first reader, fact checker, and proofreader of both fiction and non-fiction in her areas of interest. Contact her at

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