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Traditional wisdom ranging from a bevy of global cultures—including Native American, Taoist, and West African groups—calls for honoring one’s ancestors to a specific generational threshold. I’ve most frequently heard talk of remembering to ‘seven generations,’ and trying to learn the names of one’s family up to that level. Doing the math, if you start with yourself as the first generation (1) and go back seven steps, at level seven there are 64 individuals, for a total of 127 names, lives, and personalities to remember. If you start at your parents (2), the top level has 128 people, and the total runs up to 254 persons of note. That’s only counting direct ancestors, one mother and one father for each person, with no account for brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, stepparents, adoptive family, etc. While it is certainly not impossible to remember a roster of names to that length—recitations of lineage are common in a number of cultures which rely on oral transmission of lore—it can be difficult for people in a literate society to manage. Moreover, for those of us who like to maintain ancestral altars,  keeping physical representations of between 128 and 254 people on our altar spaces can be unwieldy.

So what are our options, if we recognize the importance of maintaining an ancestral presence in our lives? Today I want to look at some of the ways we can encompass our forebears without crowding out an entire room of the house with representative knick-knacks (if you do maintain such a room, kudos to  you and I would love to visit, as that would be an intensely powerful space, I think!).

Genealogy

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