Inspiration: The Family Tree (Take 2)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Norman Rockwell's Family Tree (stared at endlessly by Denos siblings)

I mentioned that language acts like "caffeine" for my creativity, so I wanted to share another source I draw from: family trees. They've always been inspiration to me...not quite sure why. Perhaps it was because growing up, we didn't have a lot television–we had grandmas with good stories. I think I'm mostly fond of family trees because I love CHARACTERS and the elements, historical/genealogical/magical, that join to create them. I love to think about lineage when I'm creating a character...

Plus, family trees are chock full of my favorite things, like...


I love that each of us is a perfectly particular culmination of stories that stretch way back in time. In researching my own tree last week, I found out that my husband Matt's distant relative came over on a ship from England called the "Truelove" (really!) and most folks from his mother's side were pilgrims, some settled Plymouth. We just discovered Matt's also a direct descendant of John Proctor of the Salem Witch Trials! Remember Arthur Miller's The Crucible?

As for me, my Scottish side descends from the Clan Munroe which still keeps its Foulis Castle in Scotland (dating back to the 11th century!) What was it like to live there then? What did my ancestors dream about within these walls? Can't wait to go and see one day...lots of stories here.

Foulis Castle today


I love the names in family trees a name is borrowed for a time to brand our "looks" and faces, but they duck and weave in and out of family trees, sometimes into obscurity, sometimes enduring for centuries in records. We say things like "Those eyes are Anna's! That expression is so Denos, those EARS! They belong to the Smith side." I love how character BECOMES a name. Names are like little threads you can pull on to unravel time...

So , when I should be preparing for Paris, I've been using any free time to find the elusive Italian/French ancestor who gave Matt his last name (and my married name) : Cesare Perlot. He lived way up in the hills of Fai Della Paganella, in northern Trento, Italy. We cannot trace his origins or how his french name came populate northern Italy! The legend goes: two Parisian Perlot brothers in Napolean's army ventured over the Alps and winter-camped in Fai...(and I'm guessing they met some lovely Italian ladies and settled down due to the concentration of Perlots there today!) I love a mystery but I've exhausted sources, any Perlots out there with a lead? Maybe a hint waits in Paris...

Matt's grandma, Anna.

As for my name: Denos. My (also elusive) great grandfather, Andrew Denos, came over from Greece, and wouldn't tell a soul who/what/ where/when/why. All we are left with is his last name and 3 seconds his slow-motion wink to the panning cameraman in a flickering 1950's wedding reception reel if he's saying, "You have a lonnnnng search ahead of you kid!" Another mystery.


The physical inheritance passed through a family tree is maybe the neatest part to me, though these things like that are less documented in family trees than names and dates. Yet, the eyes you use, the nose you wear, maybe even the stubbornness you possess traveled across oceans, through stories and bloodlines to become you. The idea of "ancestors" makes me imagine too: they're with us in our features in a way...we are what's survived of them as we move ahead into our own personal legends. We carry this legacy in our bones every day. Isn't that kind of magic?

The way I imagine family trees: generations behind us stretching out like flickering tails (tales) of two-by-two trailing backward into the distance. Kind of like this:


Maybe it's the progressive, loving perspective I receive from family trees that gets me. It makes the whole planet feel smaller. Our stories have crossed oceans by ship, settled into houses, making countries and foreign languages feel like home; it makes peace feel more possible somehow. We extend our branches out, weave our stories into eachother's, light up different parts of the globe for a while, making those places loved. Family trees hint at something eternal and magic for me, something alive and progressing...they just capture my imagination. Maybe someday I'll know what to make of it, what to DO with it. A book? A painting? A crazy mural? Hm.

So where did you come from? I want to hear about your family tree! Does your name have a story?

(*Thanks to all the readers who've shared their amazing family stories with me when I initially posted this last week! Sadly, Blogger's system crashed for 5 days and the blog post, your comments and our conversation was deleted so here is Take 2–I wish there was a way to contact each of you, thank you folks!)


Savanna Rodriguez said...

I love you blog! So bright & inspiring!

So here is a bit of my husband & my colorful family trees.

Our last name is Rodriguez, because of my husbands great grandparents move to California from Mexico. It is said they moved because Poncho Villa had his eye on his great grandmother. His grandfather, Renee, grew up living in the slums of Anaheim California, but in High School fell in love with a beautiful Irish girl named Dixie. He went on to build the shuttles for NASA. They had 6 beautiful children, 5 boys & 1 girl. My husbands father then married a Swedish beauty named Derin, who is my wonderfully talented Mother-in-law with piercing green eyes. My husband is 1/4 Mexican, 1/2 Swedish, and 1/4 Irish. He's got the Mexican physique, but his mother's eyes.

I am pretty much 1/2 Irish & 1/2 Scottish. My father's Scottish family migrated across from the east to Utah with the pioneers. My great grandmother's (mother's side) name was Gretna Lou, my grandmother's name was Bennie Lou, my mother's name was Cindy Lou. I was meant to be Savanna Lou, but my father wouldn't have it. My mother & grandmother's were southern bells that had the most beautiful twangy accent & spunk. My grandfather was an illustrator and graduated art school, after working in Nashville he met my beautiful grandmother. They had 4 daughters. My mother went on to become Miss Utah in 1982. She passed on her porcelain skin and green eyes to me. Our hair is also raven black. I have a love for Snow White because of the resemblance to my mother. My father's family also migrated across from the east to Utah with the pioneers.

I love family trees too. Thank you for the beautiful post! said...

Wow, Savanna! Really colorful just like you said...all the green eyes! So rich in history and different regions of the world too, very cool. It's so great so many of your stories are preserved as well for you to pass down. Thanks so much for sharing!

anne said...

fab family tree/inspiration post, Julia ~ really great insights!

neora chana said...

I, too, have enjoyed your blog.

I've worked on my family geneology off and on for 30 years. It really came to life for me when I was working on my master's in counseling and we had to do a genogram, which allows you to symbolically represent the things that are passed down in the family--to make it visual.

December has always been a 'down' month in my family and it turns out that a significant part of my family was born or died in December.

In addition, there were several 'mirrors' between my mother's and father's family. For example, both my grandmothers both survived a house fire. I had a great aunt on each side who ran away with a man (salesman, carnival worker) and returned home pregnant.

I sometimes like to try to give a voice to the white spaces between the words; try to imagine the unsaid.

jacklynn4 said...

I sense a book in the making with this is my contribution...We always celebrated our Irish heritage yet mysteriously-and inexplicably-I always felt a connection to France. I studied French in high school, I was drawn to all things French, I even dreamed in French. Curiously, my grandfather's name was Hubert Maurice (both very French names) Lantry (not terribly Irish is it?) My dad used many French words-taken from his childhood-he called his hat, his "tuque," When I went to Ireland (in search of my roots) a parish priest in County Cork told me my roots are in France! "Mon Dieu!" I thought to myself:) The priest told me that, in the 1700's, the French (Catholic) came to Ireland to help oust the Brittish (Protestants.) History shows they were not successful, but some stayed in Ireland. Lantry was probably "Lautrec" with a Irish brogue. I don't know if it's true, but it rings true in my heart... said...

Thanks Anne!

And Neora, I am totally intrigued by the genogram idea...and I like what you said about "giving a voice to the white space between the words"too...

Jackie...I'm just floored by your french intuition! How amazing that you sensed your roots! Sometimes I get that feeling too, maybe it's worth exploring then. How amazing you got to actually go back to Ireland and search for the real story...WOW