Genealogy: Identity Treasure Hunting—Search for Self?

One of the earliest photos of me and my older brother Tommie.

Is it true for you? It appears that many want to know where they come from, what we are, what made us who we are.

Is this ancestry questing urge a universal need? What is behind this wanting to know about our roots? What is the mystery of it all?

Thousands today seem to clamor searching, “with the tiniest reference to one of their ancestors, clasping or staring at a piece of paper as if it were the most revelatory discovery, something that might totally change their lives’ “

In 2004, after the death of my mother, I lit a torch pursuing a drive to explore how my Swedish roots became integrated as building blocks of who I have become today. The result of this 20 plus year quest is the published book: My Maja A Grandson’s Tribute.

Some suggest that the passionate magnetic pull of genealogy fixation is perceiving deep down that one’s past is interwoven with a sense of self in the present. A principle premise of ancestry treasure hunting links to: How we relate our story, create our narrative, changes us. It is one of the things that make family history compelling.

Note: This blog connects to quotes:
Jerome de Groot who teaches and researches at the University of Manchester.


“Using DNA sequencing for genealogy makes the questions about self and identity even more pressing. What is it that makes me me’, at a fundamental, genetic level’ How can this change what I am in the now’? DNA testing focuses the investigation of the past on the present self. Yet this present self might turn out to be something quite unknown. DNA testing, like other family history investigation, might turn up something about me that I didn’t know about. Yet DNA looks at the stuff inside, seems to change me internally, and so my self might be reshaped from the .”genetic level up to my day-to-day character

Mary Beth Sammons, in researching her 2020 book: Ancestry Quest How Stories from the Past Can Heal the Future, —interviewed me and read my unpublished family history research notes.

Sammons writes: “Stories of identity—who we are and where we have come from—are the most compelling harbingers of all. Our family’s stories—why our grandparents chose to leave their countries of origin, snippets of how our parents met, our mother’s bedtime stories, tales of our ancestors’ achievements whether real, embellished, or outright imaginary, are the stuff of who we are. They are the key to exploring what life is all about and they teach us that people from our past shape our present. Family stories connect the past and present to the future.”

Making Ancestry Personal

I was surprised to read in her now popular published work how Sammons linked my identity biographical accomplishments with my ancestry questing and searching.

She seems to make explicit inferential connections of who I have become related to ancestry character traits I have somehow inherited, and intentionally chosen to adopt in creating my self.

She goes a step beyond clarifying my own identity linked to my past. She infers the passing along of adopted ancestral elements of my past toward purposefully distributing them to my children and grandchildren. She goes so far as to show how my ancestry quest connects to my ministry missionary work in Africa.

She writes: “Stories heart wrenching and warming, intimate and inspiring, showcase and distill the lessons learned in the search for what makes us who we really are- and promise to redefine family in ways never before possible.”

My thousands of hours of recounting my grandmother’s stories, foraging through a trunk full of photos and archives, noting hundreds of pages of ancestral names, and dates derived from friends, family and experts ushered me to the point of an ancestral travel pilgrimage to Sweden.

Who am I ? and what is a particular aspect of my identity For which I am curious?

I wonder over and over: Is there an ancestral identity connection to: My Boy Scout days, army, teaching career, parenting, researching motivating underachieving students, publishing about high school dropouts, helping paralyzed former high school athletes, pursuing medical mission work in East Africa, grand-parenting?

Yes, I have come to believe that my search for how my ancestry connects to a prevailing lifelong interest in the topic of my resilience and that of others.

Standing over the churchyard grave of great grandparents in Sweden in our home town of Sollefteå evoked an emotional ancestral epiphany. The insightful moment came in response to my quest for explains my grandmother’s tenacious gritty resilience as an immigrant in 1922 and all the challenges she faced until her death in 1969.

I was hunting for deeper understanding and attempting to name and describe the life force that people hope to use striving beyond adversities that afflict, paralyze and crush the human spirit.

My career, my life attitudes, my desire to live, raise kids, help others, connects to harnessing at will, the ability to mobilize spiritual resilience.

More than survival of the fittest, adaptation, negotiating life beyond adversity creativity, is known by many names such as, grit, gumption, resilience, perseverance, “sisu” and more.

Standing at the grave, my Swedish expert genealogy hunting reached a zenith in naming the phenomenon.

I clearly saw at that moment, the identity essence of ancestral grit in my mother, grandmother, great grandparents.

While Grandma Maja was in America struggling to care for three kids as a widow during the Depression she could not stand at the same church yard cemetery spot to attend the burial of her mother in 1935. Her framatanda carried the day as she needed to be strong and more. I paid tribute at that moment to ancestral framåtanda. I pledged to live up to that identity for the rest of my days.

As I wrote my book, I discovered a name for adequately describing this ancestral identity phenomenon, called, “Framatanda”. This term is another name for gritty resilience. It is an obscure old Swedish compound word, a term rarely is used today. Naming this term gave me amazing satisfaction. I rejoiced that I had found the illusive identity treasure I had been searching for hunting so long in my family history exploring .

Grandma Maja didn’t invent Swedish, “fram-at-anda”, but she called upon it like a helpful genie in a bottle to assist her as an immigrant widow single mom of three as her young husband died on the floor in front of them.

Framåtanda is a composite word of Swedish origin. The “fram” component means , getting in motion, moving forward. The “at” indicates direction, destination. The “tanda” component connotes to move forwards with Spiritual push, umph!”

My tribute to my grandmother and mother and relatives was to celebrate our ancestral trait of working to understand, live, practice, improve upon our desire to best handle the inevitable adversity that comes to everyone. It was a cornerstone of the identity I wanted to strive hard to maintain.

 Fram-at-anda is deep and soulful, a spirit of inspired knowing one must move forwards.

Framatanda is a second wind arising after experiencing being knock down.

Framatanda can be an itch to strive beyond the status quo.

Framatanda can pursue a trajectory beyond one’s perceived limits and can be used to prove something, or prove oneself.

Framatanda is sometimes autonomic like breathing or a heartbeat that keeps pace like keeping up while climbing up a steep incline.

I noticed My Grandma Maja’s life as she demonstrated Framatanda:

+ Leaving Sweden for adventure (fram)-Forward

+ Pursuing. Swedish American Dream Family Life (at) Towards, to, a destiny.

+ Moving on as a grieving widow. (anda breathing inspired propelled via a spirited rising in resilience.

+ Transforming her new role as breadwinner mother, nurse, entrepreneur. (anda) Gritty spirit of conquest.

+ Handling stress, strain of the role, circumstances, times. (fram) Ploughing ahead.

+ New life as Grandmother (fram) Constructing a new life mosaic from 

+ brokenness towards leaving a legacy)


1. It appears, “family historians are resurrectionists, repopulating the past, trying to put flesh to bones and bring past eras to life”

2. Family historians, “breathe life into dead material, raising ghosts and shedding light on those long forgotten. “

3. “Family historians both reorder the past, by finding new information out, and change the present. They reshape then, and reconfigure now. “

4. “Through our investigations we subtly change the past, and the present; we modify our ancestry, and ourselves.”


The work of exploring family history can reveal many questions about our selves. We look at ourselves in the present, and delve into records and archives for many reasons.

Some of us are curious about that which carries over from the past. Is it the stories we have personally heard where we might seek to clarify an understanding of a present-day identity?

Are we looking to emulate those whom we admire and reject those whom we wish to shun?

For me, I am thankful for traits of my identity that link to my ancestral past. The past and insights about my identity help guide the choices I make and thus leave a legacy behind. (In case someone might want to understand my identity in the future)

Published by Donnie: An Admiring Grandson

Living an inspired life modeled after my Grandma Maja, who stepped up as a Swedish immigrant widow and mom of 3, facing America’s Great Depression while demonstrating uncommon grit and valor. I am determined to share her life lessons so she is no longer forgotten. I have a book to share and the reader will preview the entire story by visiting here. You are most welcome.

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