The Power of Your Female Lineage

How much do you know about the women in your lineage? If you were to look back at the lives of your female ancestors, what might you find? What tragedies and triumphs might you discover that by knowing them, would enrich your world? What might you learn that would help you make sense of your life?

For years, I’ve known very little about the women in my family, on both the paternal and maternal sides. I knew a lot about the lives of the men; the free-settlers, the farmers, the footballers, the community-leaders and one professor. Their stories have taken pride of place, while the women’s stories have remained sketchy, unexamined and mostly untold. Until now.

Tomorrow, I’m embarking on a pilgrimage with my cousin Susan to Lameroo, Murray Mallee country in South Australia. We’re on an adventure to discover more about my paternal grandmother Elsie, where she lived as a young woman, was married and had three children. And where her life took a dark turn.

Susan is the relentless researcher, the brains behind our investigations, while I’m the one who is writing a novel inspired by Elsie’s life. It’s such a joy to reconnect with my cousin after many years and to have a collaborator on this project. That’s one of the many upsides of investigating your female ancestors. It gets you reacquainted with other family members.

Our investigations have shown that Elsie was a talented singer as a young woman and that she made regular appearances on stage at community gatherings. We now wonder if she may have aspired to become a famous opera singer like her Aunt’s Angelina and Rosetta instead of becoming a wife and mother before succumbing to ill-health. We can’t wait to visit the town hall to stand on the stage where Elsie once sang.

For the past eighteen months, we’ve been traversing the state of South Australia both on the road and online. From the Yorke Peninsula to the Murray Mallee region to Adelaide and the Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later known as Glenside Hospital), we’ve been piecing together Elsie’s life.

Examining her life and writing her story has been life-changing.

I’ve come to love my grandma in a way I never could have as a younger person before she died when I was twenty-five. I’ve developed a connection to the land she lived on and an appreciation for the hardships Elsie and my ancestors endured. I’ve learnt about the injustice women suffered in an era where a husband had control over his wife’s destiny and the medical system failed women and mothers.

From a writing perspective, I’ve never felt so inspired and intimidated by a project. This is a sign that Elsie’s story matters and must be told. I’ve been learning how to write fiction, something way outside my comfort zone, as a long-term non-fiction writer. I’ve become more ambitious with a plan to seek an agent and publisher rather than self-publish. I’ve ‘upped the ante’ for myself, unlike with previous books. And it’s brought to life the tenants of Brave Women Write in a way I could not have imagined when I first wrote it.

If anything keeps me awake at night, it is Elsie and my commitment to give her a voice and do her life justice.

There’s incredible power to be gained from examining and writing the stories of the female ancestors of your family. When you find the woman whose story must be told, you can’t not write. You have purpose and meaning. And before you know it, you have made writing her story a priority, and a necessity.

Who is the woman in your family with a story waiting to be written? Let me know. I’d love to help.

We’ll be discussing these ideas and more at the Brave Women Writers Dinner on Tuesday 16 April in Melbourne. It’s an intimate dinner for 12 women where we’ll be workshopping and sharing our stories. I’d love for you to join me.


With love

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Are you a woman who yearns to share your story with the world? Do you often suppress your inner voice and wait for that perfect day to write? Or perhaps you’ve begun writing and are feeling stuck? If so, the Brave Women Writers’ Circle is the right place for you.

Carolyn Tate is an experienced author and educator and is the facilitator of the Brave Women Writers’ Circle. The 12-week course guides you to bring your writing project to life while connecting you to a courageous community of other women writers.