Roots of creativity


I would love to imagine that somewhere in my history there are ancestors who have woven strings of creativity and sent them down the centuries, ready for me to catch a thread and make something new from it.  Somewhere, at some time, there is an ancestor, crouched in the darkness, spinning stories by the light of a fire.  Somewhere, at some time, an ancestor daubs slashes of ochre on the wall of a cave.  The years pass and what began as a tiny thread becomes a tapestry of creative DNA, sending out roots to be grasped by other family members throughout history.


But if these ancestors existed, their lives and their creations have been lost in the passage of time.  The lives of those of my ancestors that are recorded are largely those of manual work: many generations of labourers, coal miners, stokers and keelmen.  It is difficult to imagine that creativity had any time or space in the arduous lives of these men.  Yet there are some lives that suggest some space for creativity: the small group of shipwrights, weavers and shoe makers that must have used an element of artistry in their work.  Perhaps this small group carried the thread that has found its way to me.


But what of the hidden creative lives of my ancestors?  The women who are recorded overwhelmingly only as wives, daughters and spinsters?  The records hold no hint of how they spent their time.  While their lives would have been no less arduous than their sons and husbands, perhaps some found an outlet for creativity in the work that became identified as women’s work: the cooking, sewing, knitting and gardening that was essential to survival but allowed for an element of self-expression.  Maybe it is from these women that the thread of my creativity comes.

Anne, Joan, Ron, Cyril, Dennis & Katie

I have often felt a little like the strange one my family.  My ideas and my lifestyle have always seemed a little at odds with those of my relatives.  So perhaps creativity isn’t genetic after all.  Maybe I’m an oddity in my family line.  Those family dynasties of artists and performers may have less to do with innate talent and more to do with opportunity and following the example of their elders.  So my male ancestors became miners and labourers because their parents did and because this is what was practical in their environment. And my female ancestors became wives and mothers for the same reasons.  Nevertheless, there are hints of the thread even here: the piano that always stood in my grandparents dining room; the notebook my mother filled with the story of her life; the small, ornate cabinet my father crafted at school.


I believe that everyone holds the seeds of creativity within them and this is expressed in myriad ways.  Censuses and certificates will never show how my ancestors used it in their lives.  It may have been in line or words or music.  Or it may have been in the way they laid plaster on a wall, or found solutions to more practical problems.  I will never know what they did or dreamed of in secret.  Or what they could have done if they’d had the chance.  But I will continue to spin the thread and hope that someone, at some time will catch it.

41 thoughts on “Roots of creativity

  1. Another great post – I’m so glad I found you!
    It’s very interesting to think about who and why we are as we are and to try and pin traces on our forebears. There are definite elements of recognised creativity in my family going back two generations, at least, so from that I guess we can surmise that this was fostered by generations before them; I’d like to think so, and I’d like to think that a little part of that has set a spark off in me!


  2. I agree. I’ve always wondered what my ancestors had in their lives to enrich their creative urges to the point of sharing it with the world–or at least their small village where I grew up!


  3. That’s an interesting inquiry I think you’re doing, and I can relate — for most of my life, no one else in my family, apart from me and my brother, has been particularly interested in writing music, although both of my parents (completely independently of each other) have, of late, started recording and performing covers of songs from their childhood. I guess that’s a testament to how artistic ability is always available, at any age and with any level of experience, when we choose to access it.


  4. My family came from such diverse backgrounds, and I think that helped create a me that sees the world a bit differently from most people. My maternal grandfather was a writer, and my mother dabbled at it when she was younger, so maybe I also inherited something from their line.

    We tend to think of the past as “static” and holding few options for self-expression, especially for those not born in “noble” houses. But I think you’ve done a wonderful job of capturing a glimpse of how people could be creative in their work and home life.


  5. I have been thinking about this post ever since I read it. As a creative, or even a professional engaged in a trade, wouldn’t it be wonderful to match yourself to an ancestor in a similar venture for them to see where their thread got to and vice versa?!! I was visiting my parents over the weekend, lamenting the fact that on both sides the knowledge of past generations is very short, only four here in America with no information from where in Ireland we originated. And because of my last name, we were Welsh before that. It is all a great sad mystery. However, as you say, we can imagine…and thankfully, I was born with a lot of that!


  6. Very though-provoking, Andrea! I’ve often thought the same thing about my ancestors and heck, even my grandparents, who I never knew well enough. Those colorless photos we possess seem to show something deeper behind their eyes.


  7. It’s so fun to wonder and imagine. Our ancestors may remain partially unknown but the act of imagining their lives is great fodder for our writing. 🙂


  8. I think we all have the gift of creativity in one form or another. Sometimes, it is hidden well as another trait, but, I believe, it is there. The one who actively looks for it and practices it will find it best.


  9. This is a wonderful post Andrea, and like all creative endeavours has sparked all sorts of thoughts and connections in my brain.
    I haven’t explored your blog before, – I get so bogged down with reading blogs – but now I must begin savouring all that you have written…


  10. What a lovely post. It’s true, our families had a tough time just keeping everyone together and being fed and clothed, but – as you say – there are seeds of creativity in all of us … a special thing that keeps our spirits alive.


  11. This is such a lovely post Andrea, I’m not sure how I missed it. I’m sure there would be hints of creativity weaved throughout your family history as you have suggested but time and circumstance may not have allowed them to be fully explored. Your writing is beautifully rich, I know I’ve said this before, but it encourages us all to feel more creative 🙂


  12. I often am conscious of my heritage–of the people who contributed to who I am. I was fortunate enough to have a relationship with 5 of my great grandparents (people I remember my interactions with, the stories and the love they shared with me). We are so much more that we think we are.


    • I like that thought Tracy, that we’re more than we think we are – we don’t always think about how much our heritage contributes to us, making us richer. I only knew two of my grandparents – and those only vaguely when I was very young – so it’s interesting to find out as much as I can about them.


  13. A beautifully written post Andrea, with a fascinating insight into your family’s background. I do believe that there are threads of creativity in your family – your grandparent’s piano, the notebook that your mother wrote about her life in, the cabinet that your father crafted, as well as the craft trades and skills needed to perform these.

    Both sets of my grandparents had pianos and both grandfathers played. I didn’t know until recently that my own dad used to play the piano and quite well. Something he lost along the way…

    I love your analogy of imagining the distant ancestor sitting in the dark spinning stories by the light of the fire to you continuing, generations later, to spin that thread of story-telling and hoping that others will catch it. Andrea, reading this, you can be sure that many others have caught your thread 🙂


    • Thank you Sherri – I don’t remember anyone actually playing that piano, apart from a few notes of chopsticks. My biggest memory is of using it as a ‘stagecoach’ when my cousin and I played cowboys and Indians! But someone must have played it, I just don’t know who.


      • Sounds like a great stagecoach to me!! I wonder, it would be great if you could find out, but as with my family, there are so many things that I will probably never know…


      • The piano will forever be a mystery! Although there was a cousin of my mother’s who was a very good piano player, nobody in the immediate family was – my aunt thinks there was no way my grandparents would have bought a piano, so it was probably passed on from elsewhere. I also got the impression they weren’t really allowed to touch it ‘it was always shut’, which is a shame. I assume it was probably seen as a valuable object so wasn’t meant to be played with – I wonder how many times children have been put off from pursuing something for a similar reason.


      • Hmm, a mystery indeed! I wonder the same thing…how easy it is to stifle our creative souls without realising what we are doing, such as not letting the children touch the piano. Thanks for sharing this with me Andrea.


  14. Andrea, that’s the wish of us all! Years ago, long after my grandmother died, a friend of hers found a box of pictures and post cards. She was clearing out her house to move in with her son, and she gave me the box to share with my mother. Mom was very clear-minded then, but she couldn’t identify any of the people; she thought maybe the friend had confused who should receive the box. (The woman died of a stroke soon after.)
    Some of the pictures were solemn, almost tragic, and others were joyous and funny–but the pictures had no context. Through the years, Mom and I would pick a picture or two at random and “create” stories, which was fun, but we also felt bad about the real stories that had been lost.


  15. This is so poetic and “true.” My ancestors would have had little time for creative musings as they were busy attempting to survive through labouring tasks. The thought of a “thread” of creativity being passed along the DNA line is a lovely way to think. I am convinced though, that the creative thinkers, writers, and artists were there and for brief moments in their lives they “dreamed.” Beautifully written!

    Thank you for “following” my blog.


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