Time can't "heal all wounds" but traveling its dusty, wind-ing paths searching for its long-lost stories can be a journey of love that ultimately soothes those wounds with the balm of context and perspective.
I am a DNA dead-end. The journey of a genetic signature that originated thousands of years ago and wound its way through the ages, the eras, the centuries and generations of my maternal ancestors to fuse into my being at the moment of my own conception ends with me.
Maternal DNA, called mitochondrial DNA or MtDNA, is passed by mothers to all their children, but only daughters pass it on to the next generation. That means that the MtDNA passed on by mother to daughter for thousands of years remains the very same MtDNA. Mine is the same as that of my great-great-grandmother, Delia Hough Flannelly born in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century and it is the same as that of her great-great-grandmother. Whenever a woman does not give birth to a daughter, she becomes a DNA dam, a DNA dead-end....like me. The universe is full of twinkling MtDNA stars and every day some of them burn out.
My maternal DNA was one of many hereditary gifts given to me by my ancestors including my dear grandmother Kate. Kate knew almost nothing about her family, was motherless by age nine, and survived a sad and turbulent childhood at the turn of the 20th century in order to make that gift which resulted in my safe, secure childhood, starkly different from her own.
For more than 30 years during Kate's life and after her death, I struggled to research her family lineage and history, piecing together tiny fragments, chasing elusive clues, determined to discover her "story" and dilute her painful childhood memories with a broad tale of the generations that defined us. This is that tale, a genealogical and historical journey crossing three centuries.
The 18th century German writer Jean Paul Richter wrote: "Memories are the only paradise from which we can never be expelled" but there is another side to that coin: memories can also be a prison that we must escape. Time can't "heal all wounds" but traveling its dusty, winding paths searching for its long-lost stories can be a journey of love that ultimately soothes those wounds with the balm of context and perspective.