What is “Ancestral Memory” ?

Ancestral memory is not always easy to identify. It is easy to acknowledge that ancestral memories live in our genes, in our blood, and in our bones, but it also lives in our minds, our cultures, our communities and in our unconcious, intuitive drives.

We know of course, that certain diseases and medical conditions are “remembered” by our genes and passed on in this way. It is obvious when you look in a mirror that your genetic inheritance tells a story about who your ancestors were: green eyes? brown skin? tall? What color and texture is you hair? Each one of us carries the genetic footprint of our forebearers, remembered in our DNA.

We feel and experience these ancestral memories in our body without any conscious awareness. These memories are awakened by sensations. The experiences of our childhood selves, of our parents ,and of our grand parents are stored in the body and often present themselves as aches, pains and illness as we age. I often feel as if the ancestors live in my bones. Especially now that I have developed arthritis in my spine. I know that my spine is the most primitive part of me, the “backbone” of all other parts of me. I sense that my spine carries the burden of generations before me. I wonder if talking with my ancestors can help relieve some of the anger, tension, and despair that I carry there? In some indigeous traditions, it is said that the spine carries the energy of our ancestors. It is the “stairway” of our inheritance.

Ancestral memory can live in the mind as a story based on experience and how we have interpreted the experiences of our lives. The mind needs to remember who is safe or unsafe, who is fun to be with, who is not fun to be with, where we feel good, and where we don’t want to be. The mind focuses on remembering what we need for security and safety, love and belonging. The mind is a place where it is important to learn how to get our needs met and remember what we have learned. We also want to learn how to achieve things, how to create, how to be recognized and how to learn and grow. We remember how we feel when we are with different people,at different places, and having different experiences. The feelings become strong motivating forces which guide us in our choices of what we do, where we do it, and who we choose to be around. The family patterns influence us as we develop responses to life based on our own experience of the adults we live with. If Mom is tense when she is around certain people or situations, we may have a similar reaction based on our observations of her behavior. We learn what types of behavior or words get a positive response from our parents, and our grand parents. We learn about the world by interacting with and observing our family members. In this way, the ancestors have influenced our experience of ourselves as we relate to others.

Our individual memories are not the only ones that affect us though. We live in cultures and communities that have been molded by generations of memories. These reflect family experiences and ways of coping with the challenges of life. The memories carried by members of persecuted communities, or by those who have been forced to abandon their homes, or by those who have been forced into slavery will survive in the communities and families of many generations to follow. The lessons learned by the members of communities and cultures reflect the need to survive and establish some type of security and sense of belonging. When life is difficult for a community, members find ways to cope, and survive, passing on a system of beliefs and strategies to their children. They can impact how we interact with other people and how we perceive the world and nature. The choices and decisions that our ancestors made based on their experience have influenced us, whether we know it or not. This is also how we can inherit biases toward certain racial, ethnic or religious groups.

We may take on a certain role or attitude that is typical of our community, or of the community in which our parents and grand parents live, because we are strongly identified with our culture. Conversely, we may react to our culture by attempting to be different. Communities, whether they are family systems or cultural systems have an interest in maintaining the structure and organization of the system as long as the members feel their needs are being met. We have the potential to become identified with the culture in which we feel we belong, and this of course means we have the potential to feel different from and possibly superior to those in other cultures. Has this been true in your family line?

There is also the realm of memory which is larger than our human cultures, it is the realm of the universal experience. What do we know about human existence? What do we know about the planet as a whole? What are our spiritual beliefs? Which legends and myths do we identify with? These are the beliefs and stories that teach us the larger story of how people and the Earth embody and act from an energy that is large than we are. This is the place many call the realm of Spirit. The focus here is on knowing the lessons learned throughout human history and on finding meaning within them. This place of universal memory can remind us of what motivates us to be the best person that we can. This place also helps us to remember our calling, or passion: what we came to earth to do. The detached observor, or witness resides here: the one who reminds us to watch ourselves, look at what we are doing, and just notice. It is from this place that we remember our deep seated biological need for transcendence. It is the place that recalls our yearning for meaning and purpose.

If you look at your family history, the stories you know about your ancestors, you may be able to discern a larger story or archetypal theme that runs through your lineage. For example are there several warriors in your family line? Are there teachers, or healers, or artists throughout your family? Do the family stories have a theme such as fleeing from oppression, or battling against natural disasters? If you were to write a myth or fairy tale about your family, what might it be? Would it be based on an ancient classical myth or legend?

Ancestral Memories: Where Do They Live?

Ancestral voices come to us through memories. They are ever present even though we barely notice them. Our ancestral memories tell us how to approach strangers, they tell our bodies how to respond to perceived threat or disease, they tell us how to behave within culturally accepted norms, and they guide us as we navigate the larger story of living a life of purpose and meaning. The voices of our ancestors come to us through the channels of our bodies, minds, cultures and guiding stories or spiritual inspiration. We may not recognize the influence of these memories, but the voices of our ancestors are stored and heard by the memories which live in our unconscious or intuitive parts, in our instinctual being, in our personalities, in our families, communities.

What do you remember about visiting your grandparents’ or other relatives’ home? Bring one of these places to mind and notice the smells, sounds, emotions, thoughts, and physical feelings that pop up….notice how memory works through you. Perhaps it is bringing you stories and lessons about the world, about the people and places around you, and about how you fit in to this place. What does ancestral memory want you to know? These memories are guiding and protecting you by bringing back the lessons of experience. We can learn to notice how our ancestors speak to us in this way.

Ancestral memories live within us and are triggered by feelings, sensations, associations, and thoughts. They come to us as unconcious reactions and responses. We remember where we have felt a sense of being welcome, and where we feel threatened or unsafe. We may also have an unconcious sense of safety or danger. We remember how to communicate with others and who is safe to approach. We remember who we are in the larger context of the world: beings who strive for belonging and connection and who are also focused on survival. We need these memories to remind us what or who is safe or dangerous. It is obvious that life without a memory is very difficult, because you constantly forget who you are and what you are doing. In the same way, life without an appreciation of ancestral memory can sometimes seem like a roller coaster ride through unfamiliar territory. When we can’t remember where we have been, we can’t remember what to expect next. Ancestral memory can give us a sense of the larger picture.

Memories can be triggered by any of the senses: they can cascade into our consciousness when we see, hear, touch, taste, or smell something. They are often unconscious, and the images or emotions that surface when memory pops up can be surprising and baffling. What and how we remember experiences, places, people, and feelings can be mysterious and fascinating.

Personal Reflection : For me, an image is a ticket on the time travel train. The train takes me back instantly to the moment when I experienced something or someone that popped into my mind when my eyes perceived the image: it could be a smile, a certain expression, a color or texture, or a minor detail in the background such as a tree, a house, a car. Something clicks as if these images from my past are floating around on a wheel in my head, spinning, looking for a place to click into consciousness. Sometimes a smell, taste, texture or a sound can trigger a feeling and an emotional response that I don’t understand.

Even as I sit here looking out the window…at the back yard, the sun shining down on the grass, the leaves piling up in the garden, I remember an afternoon day, in the back yard of my grandparents’ house. A place that I visited twice a year as a young child. In my mind’s eye, I see the sagging roof of the wood slatted garage and feel the chill of a cloudy, December day. I sense the loneliness of a young girl, but I also sense relief: a feeling of being ok with being alone in the back yard where I am safe. A back yard is a haven for fallen leaves, little birds, dead flowers, and breezes blowing through the entire neighborhood. I feel the air on my face, smell the rotting leaves, and feel the quiet relaxation, and the security of solitude. I hear the crying of a train whistling in the distance. My body remembers, my mind remembers, my senses remember, and my emotions are triggered. I am eight years old again, and I have boarded the time travel train just by looking out the window. If I were to go on with this story, I could think of many narratives, many experiences to recall as I stay in this place, this back yard. In fact, it was my favorite place as a young child and so there were many adventures there, both real and imaginary. It would be interesting to note which people come to mind as I think about all that happened there.

Discover Your Ancestral Detectives, Gate Keepers and Storytellers

From the book, Ancestral Impressions: Exploring Your Ancestry throught Creativity, Imagery, and Intuition by Audrey F. Chowdhury 

I love to watch and read mystery stories. I like to look for clues in the most ordinary circumstances and conversations. Playing the armchair detective is engaging and fun. I find that when I approach the ancestral realm as a detective, following clues, looking for details that may lead to the answer to a mystery can make the work into an interesting pastime. My Inner Detective is quite useful in this regard. Do you have one? If so, be sure to create an image of her or him to take with you. The detective can be very helpful when it comes to asking questions of the ancestors and asking them to tell you the whys and how’s that may lead to solutions to deeper puzzles within your family.

We often bump into gate keepers along the way to accessing the realm of ancestors. It is important, first of all, to have a Gate Keeper of your own who can work with your protector to keep your boundaries clear and solid as you do this work. I have also encountered a Gate Keeper who is in charge of the door to the ancestral realm. She appeared in a SoulCollage® card several years before I understood who she was. Her job is to decide if my intentions are honorable as I approach the door to the world of my ancestors. I need to assure her that my intentions are only for good. I am not entering to settle an old grudge, or to project hate and shame, but only to find love, understanding, wisdom and clarity so that I may pass these along to the next generations. The ancestors that I wish to encounter with such an intention will be the ones who have equally honorable and helpful intentions.

Take a moment to ask yourself what your intention is in doing this work. Write it down. You can even create a prayer or a mantra to use as you communicate with the ancestors so that you can remind them and yourself what you are looking for.


“Ancestral Detective”, collage card by Audrey Chowdhury

“Ancestral Gatekeeper”, collage card by Audrey Chowdhury

One of the strongest ancestral voices that I have heard is that of an Aunt Edna. I had no conscious awareness or memory of this great aunt. She tells me that she is the family story teller, and so of course, she wants to come through. Perhaps your family had a storyteller? You can ask your ancestors if there is a storyteller among them if you do not know of one. They can be quite helpful because they are storehouses for details that others may not have even noticed! These storytellers often lived in the shadows, recording the stories in their minds and hearts if not on paper. How grateful they are to have someone ask them to tell their tales! Try imagining a storyteller in your family. Maybe there are more than one. Which generation might they belong to? Which lineage are they connected to? Try making up a story to tell to this person, or to tell about this person. Imagine what they might look like.

Helpers for the Journey to the Ancestors

Call on your helpers, guides and allies to accompany you on your journey to the ancestral realm. 

from the book, Ancestral Impressions, Exploring Your Ancestry through Creativity, Imagery and Intuition by Audrey F. Chowdhury

Do you have a guide, advocate, or angel on your shoulder? I am guessing you probably do. She or he may come to you in dreams, or in the form of a character from a movie or book that you remember clearly. “Glenda”, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz comes to mind for me. You may find an image in a magazine or book that reminds you of a trusted friend. If so, cut it out and paste this image in your journal, or create a collage of her or him. It is important to have an image in your mind of a guide and advocate, someone who has your back, because you never know what you will encounter. Family can be a very frightening place to go, so be prepared and take your allies along.

I also have a childhood memory of a woman named “Mrs. Roberts”. I don’t know how my parents knew her, but I remember her coming to visit us expressly to see me. She seemed to be interested in only me, not in my younger sister or brother, because she had known me as a baby. She gave me my favorite picture book (Blueberries for Sal), carried a shiny purse, and wore a hat and pearls. I felt, even as a very young child, that she really saw who I was and wanted me to know this. She saw the light that shone within me, and because I knew she saw it, I could believe that this light was real.

When I read about the concept of the “enlightened witness” in the work of author, Alice Miller,  (Drama of the Gifted Child) many years later, Mrs Roberts immediately came to mind. Every child, writes Alice Miller, needs an enlightened witness. This is someone who clearly sees that one is a living light with something special to bring to the world. It is most important that every child feels seen as an authentic being with worth and value by at least one other person.

I recognized this quality, of the enlightened witness, when I first watched Mr. Rogers on the Public Television channel. My son was just a toddler at the time, and I remember crying when I saw Mr. Rogers look at the TV and say: “You are the only one like you and people can like you just the way you are”. Do you have any memories of a person who was your enlightened witness for you? Create an image of this person by creating a collage card or simply cutting out an image of someone who reminds you of this enlightened witness.  Place it in your journal. Have them with you as you do this ancestral work.

Personal Reflection
I had an imaginary friend as a child. Her name was “Carleton”. She was tall and thin, had short black hair, and always told me that I was great. She loved me, she was with me even when the bad stuff happened to me, and she refuted any derogatory remarks that were directed at me by others. I talked to her, and she talked to me when I was alone. My alone times occurred when I had to take a nap in the afternoon. That is what I remember, anyway. Carleton was my ever present best friend, who would play whatever pretend game that I decided on and who assured me that I was a wonderful person, no matter what. I think she saved my life during some very difficult times.

My memories of Carleton faded when I went to school. I don’t remember even thinking of her after first grade. It wasn’t until I started seeing a therapist, when I was in my twenties that Carleton’s name popped into my head one night while driving. I cried when I realized that this guide and advocate, has been with me all of my life and I have ignored her. I think of her now as an angel on my shoulder. She has whispered in my ear during moments of deep despair, giving me hope and the desire to stay alive. What a wonderful resource and supporter she is! I want her with me at all times now, but especially when I am accessing the realm of the ancestors. I know that I could encounter things or voices that do not feel friendly or loving, and so it is always could to bring my trusted companion.

More Ideas for Creating Your Ancestral Altar Items

Create a collage card: A powerful tool for accessing and acknowledging the ancestors

This exercise is based on the process called SoulCollage®, as described by Seena Frost in her book, SoulCollage® Evolving

The ancestors love to pop up in the most surprising and often delightful ways. They may choose to show themselves through images of animals, perhaps a pet, or a farm animal, or a bird. They could also be evoked through an image of a house, or a landscape. Perhaps you will run across an image in a book or magazine that reminds you of an ancestor, or that captures your attention for some unknown reason. The image triggers a memory or emotion, or a vague recognition. When this happens allow yourself to pick up the image. Cut it out if it is in an old book or magazine that you use as a source of images. Of course, you can also use copies of actual photos of ancestors for this exercise if you have them. Cut around the image carefully.

Next, allow yourself to be guided by the image as you assemble a small collage (large index card sized). Ask the image what type of background it would like. Play with different backgrounds such as buildings, landscapes, or interior scenes. Try different additions to the collage and ask yourself if they feel right. Try to remain in your intuitive mind as you create this collage card. Allow and the images to be an opening for the ancestor to appear to you.

When you feel finished with your collage, place it on your altar. You will be working with this card or photo in future exercises. For now acknowledge the image and thank him or her for showing up in visual form.

Collage card of ancestor by Audrey Chowdhury

Create a Question Jar or Box

Find a jar or box that would fit well on your altar. A vintage or “vintage like” container of some kind (like a mason jar) would work well. Decorate it if you like with copies of vintage photos, magazine images or objects. You can paint it, collage it, use tissue paper and watery glue to cover it, wrap it in a beautiful wrapping paper, whatever appeals to you. Place it on your altar. This will be your “question container”. Have some strips of paper and pen next to it. Whenever a question occurs to you, write it down and put it in the container. Be sure to note if it is a question for a specific ancestor, or if it is one that you would like to ask all of your ancestors. These questions can be things like: What toys did you play with? What was your favorite subject in school? What were your chores as a child? Were you ever sick as a child? Did you have any pets? My favorite question for my grandmother is “what was in your apron pockets?”

As you begin to fill this jar or box with questions, more will occur to you as you go through your day and through this process. Perhaps they will come to you in dreams. If you are interested in a particular ancestor, consider reading a novel, or watching a movie about the period during which they lived. New questions may come to you as you learn more about what their lives were like. Be sure to add them to your question jar. It may be helpful to have a jar for specific family lines, or ancestors. There is no limit to the number of question containers you can add to your altar.

Preparing for the Journey to the Ancestral Realm

Create a Home Base

So here we are…grab a cup of something soothing to sip and sit back in your chair, with your pen, pencil or crayon and sketch book nearby.  Take a deep breath and feel yourself in your body with your feet on the ground, your hair on your head, your heart beating, your lungs filling with air, your stomach digesting….just notice what is going on in your body.  Notice any tension and let your shoulders drop, soften your face and jaw and ease into your home, your body.  Maybe today you can only ease into your little toe…go wherever you can feel yourself being present.


Now, take a moment to reflect on NOW:  where are you?  What type of place? What city? Where in the world?  What time is it? What day? What season?  Imagine yourself surrounded by a protective light, a bubble or a shape of some kind…and the see this light grow into layer upon layer of protection for you and for the people around you, for the city, and beyond.


As you sit in this safe place, in this moment, ask yourself, how did I get here?  Where did I come from?  What journey brought me to this place?  Who journeyed before me to this or similar places?  That is the work of this book.  Together, we will start where you are, look around, and search for signs of those who came before you and the memories that they hold.  We will explore the realm of your ancestors with them, holding their hands, blessing them, and gently allowing them to tell us their story. The bits and pieces that they share:  their needs, their prayers, their wishes, their passions, their instincts, their drives will help you discover how you got here, to this place you are now, and how you can ask them for guidance in moving forward to the place where your deepest Self feels at home. If you don’t know what that is, your journey with the ancestors will give you many clues and point the way toward finding it.


Suggested Activity:

Create an Altar or Shrine for your Ancestors

The ancestors respond to any attempt you make to honor them, or remember therm.  They want to be remembered and acknowledged.  Why?  Because they want you to remember that they lived, that they are still with you, and that they have something to say.  Creating a shrine or altar is just a way to tell them, and you, that they were real, that they mattered in life and still matter in death.  Creating this “remembering” place can be as simple or detailed as you like.  If you have many objects that were special to your ancestors, or that they created, and photos, then you are fortunate.  You will have fun choosing what would be most meaningful for your altar.  Maybe your grandma had a menorah in her home, or a mezuzah on the door.  If you find an object like that, include it in your shrine.  Pieces of jewelry, doll clothes that they made for your dolls out of the scraps from their own dress fabric (I have these), can be very meaningful.  Maybe you have a special recipe that is hand written on an index card, or a letter or postcard that your ancestor wrote.  These may belong on your altar.


If you don’t have any mementos, or creations of your ancestors, you can go to thrift stores, or vintage stores and scour them for items that remind you of your grandmother’s house.  For example a cookie jar, or a clock, or a tea cup, or a doll. Many sacred objects, such as Madonnas can be found in these places.  Those objects that were prayed to and considered sacred have special meaning and energy.  If you know anything about what your ancestors found beautiful or moving, such as a piece of music, a favorite book or poem, or a work of art you can find a way to represent this on your altar.  Maybe you can find a copy of the book or poem, or a photo of a famous painting. Perhaps you will run across a recording of a favorite song or piece of music that your ancestor played, sang or listened to.  If you remember a portrait of a famous person on your grandmother’s wall, perhaps they could be represented on your altar as well.


Feel free to be creative and put together a shadow box, or collage using copies of photos.  This is meant to be fun and expressive. You can create a “tableau” with the objects, arranging them so that they tell a story that has meaning for you. You can create commemorative boxes or hats by gluing pieces of costume jewelry to them with a hot glue gun.  Look in art supply stores, or arts and crafts books or websites for ideas for creative things to do with found objects. Alternatively, a simple basket or bowl to hold your commemorative objects is fine.  The point is for this to be a sacred space and reminder of your ancestors that has meaning for you.


Find a place for your Ancestral Altar that is easily seen and accessed in your daily life, especially while you are working through this process.  You want the ancestors to be part of your world now, and they want to be remembered often.  The more that you think of them, the more they are here to help you.  Place a cloth on the altar that gives it a sacred feeling, add a candle, a special stone or crystal, a feather, and a mirror or bowl of water. In this way, you will have the elements of air, fire, water, and earth represented.  You can add to this altar as you follow through with the work outlined in this book. Symbols and signs of your family lineage may show themselves along the way.  You can acknowledge these by creating a tangible representation through creative art processes, or through words.  For example, you may see animals or birds, trees or landscapes as you experience the guided imagery exercises in this book. Perhaps you will learn of important items that have been passed down through generations while having a dialogue with your ancestors in later chapters.  It is possible that memories will surface and mental snapshots that have long been buried will show themselves to you as you delve into this realm.


This altar will continue to grow and evolve through this process, so it would be instructive to take a photo of it when you begin, and keep a visual journal of this living memorial as you add (or possibly subtract) to it from it during your work with your ancestors.


Why Take this Journey into the Ancestral Realm?

Today I am sharing the introductory chapter of my book, Ancestral Impressions, Exploring Your Ancestry through Creativity, Imagery and Intuition. 

This book has been designed to facilitate your own journey into the ancestral realms.  It is meant to be an interactive workbook. There is narrative for each section which is followed by a collection of suggested exercises. The “Personal Reflections” are stories about my own personal experience which are interspersed throughout this workbook.  These are meant to give you examples and to evoke your own thoughts and feelings about your personal recollections and experiences.

Introduction:  Why Take this Journey into the Ancestral Realm?

Have you ever felt as if your life were following a script that someone else wrote?  What if the choices that you have made and the beliefs that you hold belong to someone who lived generations ago?  The life that you have created is a tapestry woven from the threads of many influences. Many, if not most, of these threads were produced by the people that came before you:  your ancestral lineage.


This journey into the ancestral realm is a quest for meaning and guidance.  It is a journey into the truth of your being.  Embarking on this path can help you find the answers to some of your deepest questions, such as:

  • What unknown forces have brought me to this place in my life?
  • What mysteries lie in my ancestral lineage and how are they affecting me?
  • What are the beliefs, patterns, illnesses, and family stories that are playing out in my life and how are they affecting me?
  • How can I change or possibly benefit from the way these patterns affect me?
  • Who are the ancestors that wish to help me through their guidance, healing, or courage? How can I access their wisdom?

Your ancestors were survivors. You know this because you are here now, living, breathing and reading this page.  Just being conscious of this tells you that they had strengths, hopes, and dreams that sustained them, kept them alive and perhaps even enabled them to thrive.  Their strengths also live within you and can help you navigate the difficult times in your own life.  Working with the ancestors can help you identify and own the special gifts and visions that you have inherited.


You may have many questions about how you have become the way you are.  Your ancestors are a tremendous resource for you, and they are just waiting for you to ask them for guidance and information about who and where you came from.  Maybe they can help you understand the beliefs and attitudes that you carry? For example:

  • Were there secrets, fears, or superstitions in your family that were passed on as “common sense”?
  • Which inherited beliefs, strengths, illnesses, and family secrets do you carry into your daily life?
  • Which ones do you try to keep buried?
  • What about their coping strategies and survival skills: do you recognize these in yourself or have you forgotten them?

The journey that we are about to take together is a journey into the ancestral realms of the body, personalities, culture, geography, and guiding lights.  We will be accessing these realms using the keys of curiosity, memory, imagination, and intuition.  It is a journey that can be fun, exciting, revealing, and instructive.  It can also be emotional, troubling, and disturbing.  It is not one that we take lightly, but one that we take with reverence for the suffering and the will to survive that has triumphed.  We look for signs and stories of redemption and of the power of love and joy to surface even in the midst of despair.  Our ancestors lived through all of the problems and the trials that we face now.  Yes, the context was different, but they were facing the same types of dilemmas and heart breaks that we endure today.  Their wisdom is a well that waits for us to access.  The ancestors are with us in our pain, and in our joy.  They want their lives to have meant something.  They want us to know that their love is with us, even if they couldn’t show us love during their lives.  They want us to know that they are cheering for us.  They are very close, hoping to be able to offer us guidance, wisdom, and courage.  We can ask them for help, and that is all that they wish:  they are waiting for our requests for guidance and wisdom, because they can only help us when we ask.


Our ancestors may have died holding unlived dreams, unmet expectations, and feelings of betrayal, anger, guilt or shame.  Perhaps they died feeling love that was never expressed.  I believe that the person who dies feeling completely finished with whatever they came to earth to do, is fortunate, and probably not very common. Our ancestors’ deepest wish is to help their family members reach a place of peace and joy before leaving this planet.  Why?  Because they care about us, and because our healing and mastery can help them move ahead in their own healing journey.


The ancestors are calling us because they want us to know what they can now understand from their place of wider vision: those things that they could not see during their lifetimes.  They feel pain when we are in pain, and they feel frustrated because they cannot help us.  How can they tell us that what we are anxious about at this moment is really not as urgent as we think it is?  They have the advantage of perspective and hind sight and want us to know that we do not have to re-invent the wheel.  They also want us to know that we can we can pass on their wisdom and our own while we are still here on earth.  They are waiting and hoping that we will think of them as resources and supporters.


How can we get in touch with them?  Through imagery, symbolism, intuition, and imagination.  The written word can also work, but the channels opened by the intuitive right side of our brains are more easily accessed.  When we try to reach the ancestral realm through our logical, left side of the brain, we may run into skepticism and “reasoning” which block our ability to hear and believe the guidance that comes through unidentifiable channels.  The ancestors can speak to us through dreams, while we are washing the dishes, or running, or knitting…anything that gets us out of our thinking minds and into a place where we can let go of our own blocks to hearing their voices.  That is why we will be using creative techniques to access the voices that are trying to get through to us.


Many of our ancestors did not have “happy”, carefree, easy lives.  They faced challenges and hostility that we may not be able to understand.  Perhaps they did things to other people that were destructive, painful, and even hateful.  They may not be people that would make you proud, or even want to revisit.  What can we learn from them?  Do you carry any of their hateful thoughts or destructive tendencies?  These ancestors could be helpful and very enlightening in their way, but you are never forced to listen to or revisit anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable, or fearful.  It is fine to set boundaries, in fact it is quite important to be firmly in charge of your body and energy field as you do this work.  We will begin this journey by learning some techniques for becoming sovereign in our bodies, so that the ancestors honor your personal borders.  You will be in charge.


What if you know very little about your ancestors?  Can you do this work?


Information about your ancestors such as where they lived, their names, bits and pieces of their stories, can be very helpful as starting points for conversations with them.  This information can help you decide what type of question you want to ask and what you are curious about.  Many of us do not have much information, and this is OK.  The data can be a starting point for the deeper questions about the dreams, motivations, passions, trauma and grief that have been passed down to you. We can also access the deeper recesses of our ancestral realm through our own intuition.  We all have ancestors, and we can start with what we know, or what we would like to know.  Whatever comes through our work will be a stepping stone to more information and further questions.  Trust what comes and see where it leads you.


The larger story of humanity tells us that we are all related to each other.  If we trace our origins back to the beginning of our species, we find that we all started from the same original people.  Consider the possibility of having adopted or honorary ancestors in addition to known blood relations.  These chosen ancestors could be authors, teachers, or people in your community who have inspired you or been role models. When you a sense resonance with another person, you are feeling something familiar and seeing a reflection of some part of you.  Someone who has been a source of wisdom and support deserves a place in your family of choice.


Poem from the Ancestors:

Your Life Has Meaning

Your life has meaning

This is the truth no matter what

That you have lived on this Earth

Means that you have entered the realm of the Holy

Your presence has altered the atmosphere

Your presence has evolved the cells and atoms of which we are made

Every living being:  tree, plant, frog, insect, cat, dog, human has an influence

On the evolution of this planet and of each other


Those who are conscious of this fact

Are the ones who can positively affect

The evolution of all of the beings who live or have lived or will live among us

You are one of the children who understands

What you do, say, think and feel has consequences

What you do, say, think, and feel matters


You are not living in a bubble

You are part of a great organism

This is a grand experiment called “Life on Earth”

Your ancestors know this now

They are counting on you to help their legacy be one of positive evolution

They send you love, guidance, and hope as you seek the nuggets of wisdom and truth that they have left behind for you to find.



Personal Reflection:


I often feel stuck.  Stuck in a rut. Unable to move forward, unable to take a step, unable to move.  I want to sit and think about what to do next, even write in my journal about it, but actually doing it is another thing.  I go to bed feeling ashamed of myself for not having taken the step that I had planned:  writing this first chapter, making a commitment to taking or teaching a class, whatever the thing was that I thought I would surely do today, but didn’t.  As I sit, I recognize myself in my grandmothers…the ones I knew. I only knew them when they were older of course.  They each had their own favorite chair, where they could be found most of the time.  One, my father’s mother, would be watching her “stories” on TV, with a Lucky Strike hanging off her lower lip.  My mother’s mother would be sitting in her lazy boy rocker, rocking and muttering to herself.  I felt invisible around both of them, but that was OK because I could just watch them and wonder:  what were they thinking about?  I sensed that they both felt sadness, even despair, because the lives that they had hoped for, the lives they envisioned for themselves were not possible anymore.  They were old, and had to make do with what they had, which after all wasn’t so bad, right?  They had a roof over their heads, shoes, clothes, a chair… a TV….a dog.  I think about this as I sit in my own chair, today, at age 60, and notice that I am thinking the same thing.


So I begin journaling with my grandmothers, one at a time.  They want me to know that they had come far from where they had been.  That getting to a place where they had a home was an achievement, but they both had sacrificed their dignity to get there.  They had to give up on the dream of having a husband that they loved and who loved them.  They had to give up on the dream of having supportive friends. They had to give up on their dreams of becoming a seamstress or a beauty queen, or even a successful hostess.  They settled for what they could have and were happy to have a home, and yet the sadness hung on. They remember the feeling of being told in either words or actions that they were not worthy to be alive.  That is the greatest sorrow of all, and that is the belief they do not want to see passed on.    They want me to know that getting stuck is a sign of despair, or hopelessness, and lack of confidence.  They want me to know that getting stuck in the stuck, as they put it, is not helping anyone.  They urge me to act on my ideas, to express my observations, and to tell their stories.  They are so happy that I have asked them for help, and they are so happy that they have not “lived for nothing” because their words of encouragement, and lives, have meant something to me and hopefully to my grandchildren.



Suggested Activity:

Gather Your Materials

Materials Needed:

  • Have a blank scrapbook or sketchbook that you will use to do suggested exercises.
  • Card sized pieces of cardboard or mat board, large sized index cards work fine.
  • You can also collect larger pieces poster board if you prefer this size for collaging.
  • Archival glue stick or other adhesive
  • Scissors
  • Colored pencils, markers or pens
  • Oil pastels or crayons
  • If you like to use paint, include your preferred type of paints in your supply basket.
  • Copies of images of your ancestors (if you have them)
  • Any objects (or photos of these) that your ancestors created
  • Special objects (or photos of these) that your ancestors used or cherished,
  • Construction paper (various colors)
  • A stack of old magazines or books that you can cut up.


My Path to the Ancestors

I am resurrecting my blog, finally!  I will be posting chapters from my interactive workbook,  Ancestral Impressions, Exploring Your Ancestry through Creativity, Imagery, and Intuition .

I hope that you enjoy gathering ideas, inspirations, and insights as you peruse the offerings that I plan to post weekly.  I will begin with the forward to my book:


My Path to the Ancestors by Audrey Chowdhury

copyright 2017, audreyfchowdhury.com


I love to wander through vintage stores.  When I enter the realm of trinkets, gadgets, porcelain angels, bone china plates, and cut glass bowls, I enter the realm of the everyday life of generations past.  I can remember the toys we played with, the ceramic trinkets that decorated my grandmother’s house, the dishes that were brought out for special holiday dinners.  I slip back into childhood, and even beyond to a time before I was born.  As I reach out and touch these solidly real relics, I feel a connection to something that I cannot name.  It is a yearning to touch the people that I loved and wondered about with intense curiosity.  They were my grandparents, aunts, parents, uncles, great aunts, and second cousins.  As I pick up a stoneware mug that seems like one my grandfather may have used, I feel a connection to him and I long to know him better.   I feel a deep desire to retrieve a life line to the people, the time, and place of my ancestors.  I want to know more about who I am, where I came from, and how I fit into the larger story of my lineage.  I believe that knowing the truths, stories, and experiences of my ancestors can help me to know myself.


I was a child who was fascinated by old photos of my grandparents, their parents, uncles and great aunts whom I never knew.  I wanted to know their stories, how they got to this country where I lived, what they loved to do, what they dreamt about.  My parents didn’t have many answers, nor did they seem interested.  Life had been hard for them, and their ancestors, and there was no need to revisit the painful past in their minds.


As an adult, I learned much about the process of dying, and of the process of reviewing one’s life through working in long term care facilities as an art therapist.  My experience there taught me that letting go of life is a challenge process for many. Often people yearn to be free of their aching bodies but find themselves waking up each morning, disappointed that they are still alive. I felt my own sadness and bewilderment when the residents that I worked with would ask me: “Why can’t I go yet? Everyone I know has already gone on to the other side.  I don’t want to be here anymore.”  I had no answers of course, but I sensed that there were things that they were working on unconsciously before they left.   Most of them sensed that they would know when their time came because their ancestors would start showing up in the room….and most of the time they were right!  What determined when someone’s time came, I wondered, and how did the ancestors know?


My personal experience using art processes to access unconscious memories and traumas has taught me that imagery, intuition, and imagination are the vehicles that bring the buried emotions, fears, and vulnerabilities to the surface. Most of our deepest wounds live in the realm bodily memory.  Our conscious minds try their hardest to shield us from the pain. The language of imagery, music, movement, and therapeutic play, can open the door to our true stories and help us find the hope, strength, and freedom that come from expressing our authentic selves.  This work can be the key to accessing the lost voices of those who have gone before us. Perhaps they can express to us, through our work, what they could not express during their lifetimes.


I have found through my personal and professional work that intuitive art processes can open doors not only to the realm of my own suppressed memories, but also to the realms of the body, the ancestors, and the forces that guided them.  I have studied and travelled with the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, from whom I learned the power of ritual, ceremony and the importance of honoring the ancestors as our guides and mentors.  Through these teachers and modalities, I have developed a deep respect for the most important ancestor that we all share:  our original Mother, the Earth.


I have learned, through my own recovery from childhood trauma, that my family was full of dysfunction.  There is much in my ancestral history that I am not proud of, and that I don’t even want my children to know.  Yet, I know all of it is significant.  I have had moments of deep anger and dread as I thought about approaching the work of speaking with family members that have left this world.  But I find that when I do access the stories and the lessons that my great-great aunts and grandmothers want to share with me, I leave the session feeling the power and stunning grace with which these women and men carried the burdens of their lives. I am awed by their desire to live and find beauty wherever they could.


I have received much of the information that I will be sharing with you by working with my own ancestors using journaling, photos, collages that I have made for some of my grandparents and even unknown great grandparents.  Through this work, I received the message, loud and clear, that the ancestors are waiting and hoping, and in fact getting a bit desperate, for us to ask them for their help.  They know that we are in a turbulent time, they see us facing the same types of situations they faced, and they want to help us avoid the same mistakes that they made!  The veil is thin, and they are much closer than we think.  Talking with them, asking questions, feeling their love and guidance can only do us good.  So why not give it a try?  My great grandma is saying, “So what have you got to lose??”



Dear Great Grandmother, Help me know the story of a refugee….

Dear Great Grandmother,

I have been watching stories on the news about children being torn away from their mothers and fathers.  Little babies, who are still nursing, toddlers, preschoolers wearing sparkly shoes and pigtails, young adolescents who have been torn away from their homes, from their friends, schools, families, and from their parents in a strange land that was supposed to be the promise of a better life.  I can hardly stand to focus on my easy life, knowing that I am living in a country where people believe that it is fine and good to tear women and children apart.

What can you tell me about these times, great grandmother?  How can we help people remember that most of us came from families fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression?

Dearest Granddaughter.

I did not want to leave my home.  It was beautiful there, living in the mountains of Alsace Lorraine when I was fifteen.  I did not want to leave my family, friends, teachers, church, and my land.  I loved the climate and the beauty of my home.  I loved being in our little house, cooking over the fire, baking bread, picking berries for our breakfast.  I never thought I would have to leave. Then, one day, when my father came to me and told me that there was no more money to buy food, that our small piece of land was not producing enough to feed us all.  He told me that he had heard from relatives living in this new, large country called the United States of America, where one could find large parcels of land to farm and one could find ways to earn enough money to buy food, a place to live, and cloth to make clothes.  I said “no, Papa, please don’t make me leave my home.  Who will take care of my chickens?  Who will take care of my berry patch?  Who will take care of my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins? “

It was still dark, when I was told to get out of my warm, cozy bed.  I was to quickly gather a few things, clothes, a coat, some bread, and my bible…. I felt tears streaming down my face as we bumped along in a horse drawn wagon.  It was a very long journey to the port of Bremen, where we boarded a large ship and followed streams of grieving people to the decks below.  I couldn’t stop myself from gasping and choking as I tried to hold back the tears that wanted to gush from my eyes.  I knew I would never see my home again. The hole that formed in my heart that day never was healed.

I hope that all of you living in America will remember that most of you came from families like mine.  Your ancestors did not want to live the homes that they knew and loved.  They had to leave because they could not survive there any longer.  You are living in this country now because your ancestors, like me, had to take the heart breaking journey to a strange land.  Please have mercy on the poor children and parents who are devastated because they have lost their homes, and now they are losing the reasons that they made the perilous journey to the border:  their precious children.  Please send them love and prayers.  Please remember that your ancestors were just as vulnerable and scared, and that you are one with them.

Have we, as Americans, forgotten that our own ancestors were mothers and fathers just like these families?  They left the homes and lands that they loved because they were hungry, or oppressed, or afraid of the violence that surrounded them.  Our ancestors did not want to leave all that they knew and loved to come to a strange place where there were no promises of success.  People leave oppression and violence and poverty in the hopes of finding a better life for their children.  No one wants to leave home, leave the land and people that they have always known, leave the familiar faces and ways of their culture.  People only leave because they can see no other way to offer a better life for their children.  We are those children.

Welcome the New with Wisdom from the Elders

Welcome to my new website!  I feel some trepidation as I step into this new phase of my life and work.  Becoming a grandmother for the first time seven months ago has brought me into a new stage of personal development. At the same time, I feel I have traveled full circle around a spiral back to myself as a young mother.  Motherhood is a tremendous shift in all ways for a woman.  Not only are we challenged by the addition of a new precious being who is wholly dependent on us for life, nurturing, safety, and joy;  but we are also presented with the  daunting task of balancing work challenges, family challenges, and personal needs. As I watch my daughter adjusting to her new role as Mom, I remember myself when my children were babies and toddlers,  and I wish I could go back and talk to myself from the place I sit now.

If I could travel back in time, I would tell my twenty nine year old self that she is brave, and strong, and able to love and nurture her children even during those times when she feels deep regret and shame for not being the perfect mother.  I would want to be with my young mother Self  when was feeling guilty for having yelled at her little ones, when she told them to leave her alone, when she pushed them away because she did not feel like she could be with them in a loving way.  I would tell her that things will turn out ok.  That she is human and will never be the perfect mother. I will remind her that if she can continue to strive to be the most loving mom she can be, her kids will turn out fine.  They will love her, even in her craziness, and will help her learn to pay attention to her own needs.  I would tell her that caring for herself in any way that she can…taking a few minutes here and there during her day to be alone, to walk in nature, to meditate, to listen to music, to talk to a friend, will help her be the mom she wants to be.

I feel myself revisiting the need for balance in my own life now as a grandmother, family member, writer, facilitator, and artist.  It is so much easier now to achieve balance because I have the gift of time and the ability to choose.  It is also a paradox because time is limited in a longer term way.  I know that the number of years ahead of me are fewer than those behind.  I am working with accepting mortality and facing the desire to do some good in the world before I pass.  In that sense, time is limited again, although in a larger context.  What would I tell myself thirty or more years from now?  What might I want to communicate to the mothers and grandmothers of this world when I am on the other side?  How can I use my limited time on Earth to help those who will come after me?

I would like to explore these questions and more in this blog.  My desire is to communicate hope, encouragement, comfort, and joy to those of us working things out on this planet as parents, grandparents, family members, and creative beings. I would like to access the wisdom of the grandmothers, teachers, role models and all those who came before us.  Perhaps they can offer us stories, experiences, suggestions and wisdom from wherever they are.   Maybe they can remind us how to have fun when times are challenging.  Perhaps there is a recipe, a song, or a game that brought them solace, comfort, or joy.  Our ancestors survived terrible times and may have much to offer us now as we struggle and strive to be the best parents, grandparents, teachers and role models that we can be for the next seven generations.