Ancestral Traces

By Angharad Wynne

Ancestors: they stand beside us, a lineage stretching back through time. Their love, learning, howls and hallelujahs form the foundation for our own journey through life, and their mark is left indelibly in our dna.

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before.”  
~  Liam Callahan


Traditions the world over hold that as long as one person remembers you, you are never truly dead. As nights draw in and autumn turns to gold, it’s time to re-member that wisdom and honour and, indeed, celebrate our ancestors at this Calan Gaeaf / Samhain / Halloween time and to ask for their support and guidance in the coming year.

Our blood lineage includes thousands of women and men whose lives weave a story back to the first humans in Africa over two hundred thousand years ago. To put that in context, in just 11 generations (a span of only 300 years), each of us has a total of 4,094 direct ancestors. Just imagine what that means in terms of our human interrelatedness. It makes a mockery of the arbitrary differences of race and means that those we turn away from our shores and reject as ‘migrants’ are, in fact, kin.

  • Parents: 2
  • Grandparents: 4
  • Great
  • Grandparents: 8
  • Trisavós: 16
  • Tetravós: 32
  • Pentavós: 64
  • Hexavós: 128
  • Heptavós: 256
  • Octavós: 512
  • Eneavós: 1024
  • Decavós: 2048

I like to think that our ancestors hold the collective wisdom of humanity, as a tribe of elders beyond the veil, who together recall humanity’s evolutionary journey. They are the custodians of our cultural and genetic memory.

Some years ago, I was reminded of how profound ancestral connection can be when I took my parents and daughter for a drive through the Towy valley, where I was born and grew up. It has been the cynefin, or habitat, for my family on both maternal and paternal sides for at least seven generations and probably far longer. It is a landscape that feels like holy ground; the water of the Towy River is my blood, and the Ordovician rocks are my bones. Perhaps because of this, time slips and slides as I travel through it.

On that particular afternoon, we visited Golden Grove, a country estate connected with my mother’s lineage. Her great, great aunt’s husband was the groundsman there. Later we crossed the majestic Towy river to the northern side of the valley and headed towards White Mill. This rural farming community sustained my father’s line for at least four generations. After passing the location of the school that Dad and his siblings attended, and then the chapel, our cousin’s farm and then Fachros Isaf, on which my father was raised, we turned a corner towards Hendre Hedog farm. I slowed the car to wonder at the sight of eighty or so swallows lined up on a telegraph wire. They were preparing to leave. I always feel a little sad when the swallows leave in autumn, but that afternoon, they took on another meaning. Each one represented an ancestor that I will never know in life. Those who have flown from the living world yet return in memory, imagination, and spirit. I feel their imprint upon the land, the love, resilience and hope that propelled them to give life to the next generation and the next. I am privileged to have the opportunity of life because of them, I am the result of their faith in a future they would never know.

As I drove the car beneath the wire, the swallows took to the air, a cloud of lively darts taking the opportunity to fuel up on some insects before the day closed and they settled once more to await the time to go. That powerful instinct to fly south was passed on to them through their own ancestral lines; an imperative in their DnA that compels them to travel over 200 miles per day, cross the Sahara in searing temperatures, and push onwards until they reach their overwintering grounds in South Africa. And, if they survive, an equally undeniable blood-borne urge will send them north to us again in spring.

Leaving the swallows behind, we turned a corner and passed the farm where my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mary Scurlock was born. A little later, we passed Marcholws, the farm where she grew up and from which, as a young woman, she made the journey to Capel Gwyn to marry my grandfather. A day later, she drove a horse-drawn hay wagon with her few possessions to settle with him at Fachros Isaf, where she stayed all her life – as did the hay wagon – and raised six children, one of them being my father.

Twenty years ago, as I laboured to give birth to my daughter, Elizabeth Mary was with me, though she died when I was just 8 years old. My childhood memories of her are overwhelmingly of her gentleness and patience. Often when we arrived for a visit, she would greet us at the farmhouse door wearing a flowery apron, her often flour-dusted hands crossed comfortably over her belly.

In the soft darkness – that place to which my consciousness escaped at the sharp peak of contractions – I would find her waiting, flowery apron on, flour-dusted hands crossed over her belly. Her quiet presence was reassuring. I was reminded that she’d endured six hard
labours. She kept me going, her calm presence gave me courage. When my daughter was born, the first thing she did when I held her was to cross her hands over her belly, just like my grandmother.

We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before.”  ~  Liam Callahan, The Cloud Atlas
Words  © Angharad Wynne, October 2023
Artwork by Jeremy Enecio