Copyright 1994 by Phillips Graduate Institute. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form--except for brief quotations (not to exceed 500 words) in any review or professional work--without permission in writing from the publishers.
Table of Contents| Phillips Publications| Phillips Home Page

Gibson, Richelle. Discovering Your Roots: Extended Family History with Implications for the Systems Therapist. Progress: Family Systems Resarch and Therapy, 1994, Volume 3, (pp. 53-67). Encino, CA : Phillips Graduate Institute.

"Now go, write it before them in a table and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever." Isaiah 30:8

The personal genealogy of Richelle Ann Gibson is studied for four to five generations. Her Scandinavian and Polish ancestors immigrated to Chicago, Illinois in the late 1800's and early 1900's. This cross-cultural study investigates the impact of a trans- continental move on the dislocated family members and present generations. This research affects the present dynamics of the family system and is investigated in itself as part of the study. This genealogical study reconnects the dislocated family to its past and develops a cultural identity in the nuclear family of the author. Information was gathered by traveling back to Chicago and retracing the steps of her ancestors when they arrived in the United States from Europe. The project is analyzed from a Bowenian theoretical position and applications for the family therapist in practice are discussed.


Research into one's own family of origin is valuable in a unique way to the development of a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist. The process of research and investigation can place the therapist in touch with one's own personal history and how it has affected a person's growth into a distinctive personality. This research is potentially a very personal process that places one in emotional contact with their family of origin and furthers progress in individuation. In addition to investigation into the differentiation process, one's ethnicity can be found and reexperienced. Cultures from the past can be assimilated and rediscovered

When I began this genealogical project a year ago I had no memories of my father or any of his Polish family. The only information that I had was my father's name and the fact that he had lived in Chicago 40 years ago. My mother was not even sure that his last name was correct. At that point, I decided to locate my father and his family to solidify my own sense of identity and process of differentiation.

In addition to locating my father's family, my intention was to find out exactly where my ancestors came from and why they immigrated to America. What cultural, environmental and personal events affected their lives that may have in turn influenced the lives of the surviving members of this extended family system.

In order to gather data I planned to return to my place of birth in Illinois and locate as many family members as possible. I went to the area where my parents had met and to where my ancestors had immigrated. I retraced their past and mine by visiting where they lived and the people that they knew to learn where I had come from. I used Bowen's methodology in that I listened and observed "at least partially outside the emotional field of the family." (Bowen, 1972, p. 112)

Before traveling, I had gathered family information for about a year in research and history centers locally and constructed a genogram back four and five generations. Of course, a complete genealogical analysis could take a life time but intense study for a year yielded fascinating results. The patterns were further investigated within my extended family and related to the Systems Theory of Family Therapy, Bowen's concepts of differentiation and the multi-generational transmission of family character traits.

A Summary of the Anderson Family Biographies:

My great-grandmother Ella Olson (1862-1925) was born in Sweden. At eighteen years old, she immigrated to American from the "Lan" of Blekinge. This "lan," or province, on the southern most tip of the Scandinavian continent, was slightly south of Malmohus and Kristianstad. Blekinge borders the Baltic Sea and is called the "garden of Sweden," because it is intensively cultivated, low and undulating. Her vessel sailed from either Hamburg or Malmo which would be the nearest ports and arrived most likely in Ellis Island New York in 1880. They were most likely simple country folk because she came with few stories of family or any possessions to speak of. Ella's grandson Glenn, described her as "short, fat and 100% sweet." She used to say "let the meek inherit the earth." He can remember her speaking Swedish to her sons.

Ella married Frans Otto Anderson in 1884 and they settled in Cook County, Illinois, most likely because they spoke only Swedish. In 1890, the local population was 1,192,922; 90% of which were Scandinavian. After immigration to the United States, the Swedes relocated in the northern midwest, where they found the familiar extremes of seasonal conditions; dark, cold winters and warm light summers similar to their homeland. "Immigration to the United States was primarily a result of episodes of famine, general poverty and the wish for land and political freedom." (Sennett, 1970)

Frans Otto Anderson (1858-1912) had immigrated to the U.S. in 1880. His parents were Andrew and Sophia Anderson from Sweden. Some of his grandchildren say that he left alone as a stow away on a steamer which is probably true since I could not find him on any passenger lists. Shortly afterwards, he sent for Ella Olson. As the story goes, he came to America to escape the high taxes and the draft in Sweden. He was a religious man and did not want to participate in the military so he could be free to be more involved with his Methodist Church. In 1890 he took a job working as a carpenter for the railroad and he worked there until he died at 52 years old of cirrhosis of the liver.

My great-grandparents, Ella and Frans, had nine children but only seven survived beyond infancy. Two infants were either stillborn or died before they were even named. Anne Isabelle (1899-1968) was my maternal grandmother and the youngest of the Anderson family. She would have had a baby sister but she was apparently one of the infants that died. Anne was a small, thin child with soft features with fine light brown hair.

Anne's father died when she was twelve years old so she had a different experience as a teenager growing up than that of her older brothers and sisters who had their father around much longer. She remained home only four years after his death when she married Walfred Herman Williams at the age of sixteen. They lived on Sacramento Street in Chicago and they had four children; Pearl, Vernon, Walfred Junior and Muriel, my mother.

Anne and Walfred were hard hit by the depression. Walfred was involved in a serious auto accident when he was 21 that gravely deformed and disabled his right arm. They wanted to amputate but he refused and preferred to hold on to what was left of his arm. He also had head injuries and he did not work for many years.

Anne did house cleaning and ironing to support the family and the older children were also employed. She could not make enough money for the monthly rent of $25, however, which was paid by a cousin. He was the executive vice president of the Olson Rug Company. Walfred never knew that they received help to keep the family together. In 1944, Walfred Junior, their son, was killed in World War II which was a shock to his whole family especially Anne.

I remember Anne and Walfred Senior, my grandparents, when they moved to California in 1954. They were much different then than they had been in the old days in Chicago. Walfred held down a job as a federal bank examiner and they had a stable income. He was a very sweet man but that changed when he was drinking. He became an alcoholic in his later years.

Anne was very sweet and friendly. She used to love to go shopping, visiting and write letters to family and friends in Chicago. She loved to get her hair done and get dressed up even to stay home. When I was fifteen we had an apartment California. Anne was never really happy in California, though, and she always considered Chicago her home.

A Summary of the Vellyma (Williams) Biographies:

Herman Vellyma (1861-1946) was born in Helsinki, son of Abraham Vellyma. Helsinki, the administrative, commercial and intellectual center of Finland, is located on the southern most Baltic port on the Gulf. Helsinki is called the "white city of the north." Herman was the second youngest of eight brothers but apparently the only one that left Finland. When he lived in Finland he worked a mail route on his snow skis. Herman immigrated to the United States through Canada when he was 29 years old. When immigration authorities asked him to spell his name he said, "Vellyma," so he was registered as Williams which was their English interpretation of what they did not understand. He married a Norwegian/ Swedish woman, Ellen Ekorn Schmidt, with twin daughters, Annie and Ella, eight years old.

Herman worked as a stockyard carpenter and he rented a house on Justine Street in Chicago, Illinois. In 1905 or thereabouts, they moved to Union Avenue and he got a job as a night watchman for the Olson Rug Company.

Herman lived to be a very old man and eventually outlived all but one of his children, Walfred. Herman became senile and had to be hospitalized in his last year of life at Dunning Hospital in Chicago for grabbing a neighbor lady's breasts; what his grandchildren said came naturally for him. He outlived his wife by 25 years. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Mount Greenwood Cemetery, Illinois, with his wife, two young step- daughters and infant daughter.

Ellen Ekorn (1861-1921) daughter of Andrew Ekorn was born in Vadso, Norway. Her family later moved to Sweden but she still told stories of her life in Norway about the beautiful fjords, the midnight sun, and the flickering northern lights; aurora borealis, electrical charges in the upper air. Extreme isolation and severe climate due to rugged mountains and glaciers, severe spring floods and long dark winters; when the sun rises at ten in the morning and sets at three in the afternoon in Vadso, all may have contributed to making survival problematic to her family and driven them south to Sweden. Ellen later immigrated to the United States in when she was 20 years old, eight years before Herman which means that Herman and Ellen must have met in the United States. She might have come over seas with her first husband, the Swedish, Mr. Schmidt, who maybe later died since the divorce rate in that area at the time was about .2%. (Sennett, 1970)

Ellen was a housewife who stayed home and cared for the children and tended the chickens. She must have spent a lot of time caring for sick children because her twins and her youngest baby girl, all died within three years of each other from tuberculosis. My grandfather, Walfred, said that she never really got over the loss of her three girls. Her oldest son Arnold also died two years after his mother at the age of 28. She died from stomach cancer at the age of 58. In photographs taken of her at that time, she looked very old. At least she did not have to experience the loss of a fourth child. She has a small marble, raised head stone, that was ordered by Herman.

Walfred Williams (1897-1972), my maternal grandfather, was the second child of Ellen and Herman who looked very much like his older brother, Arnold. Walfred was their only child to survive into old age. Walfred married Anne Anderson, and they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1966, two years before Anne died. They had four children. Their marriage was very stormy at times when they lived in Chicago. Anne was only sixteen and Walfred nineteen, when they married. Walfred was not known to be a good bread winner for his family. They were also rumors of Walfred seeing other women. Pearl, their oldest daughter born in 1919, seemed to be the closest to her father. In later years, Walfred lived with Pearl in Redding California and they ran a restaurant business together. He had found it difficult to live his last three years without Anne in Redding, California. Despite his past reputation, he was a good grandfather to me. He loved little girls, especially, I think because he had lost his three sisters, who had died so young.

Muriel Betty Marie (1931), my mother, was the youngest child of Anne and Walfred when they lived in Chicago. This baby was not planned and Anne had a difficult time accepting the fact that she was pregnant. She attempted to terminate her own pregnancy. Baby Muriel was born premature and was quite difficult to care for initially. Anne had to bring her breast milk to the hospital for them to feed the baby. Muriel Betty became a shy, introverted youngster who was very industrious and organized. Although she was a beautiful hazel eyed child with soft gentle features and light brown hair, she felt awkward and was not happy with her appearance. Muriel wore glasses and as cute as she was, she felt ugly.

Muriel was a good student in school, but she dropped out at 17 years old to marry Richard Kottler, a young Polish man from Chicago. They remained married for a few years and they had one child, myself, Richelle Ann Kottler (Gibson).

Muriel moved to California in 1954 to join her older sister Pearl and married a watch repair man. He was also a country western singer who liked to sing the blues and sing the blues he did, when she left him two years later. Muriel escaped with me to Pearl's house and we hid in the garage. I remember that Aunt Pearl had a knife which really frightened me. I was 6 years old. On a previous occasion he had tried to hit her and when she moved, he hit me instead and gave me a bloody nose. We escaped many times until she finally divorced him when she found a new boy friend, Elmer.

Muriel then married Elmer Cronau of German descent and they later brought a home in Chatsworth, California. She had two more children, Dale (1958) and Dawn Jacqueline (1965). Muriel worked as a bank teller for seventeen years when the children got older and eventually earned her high school diploma. She liked to dance, travel, and design ceramics. She is a very tiny woman of less than 100 pounds who moves very fast. If you want to visit with her you have to move fast too.

I was born in Chicago 1949 and as an infant I lived briefly with my parents until they divorced. I then lived with my grandparents until I moved to California. I went to live with my mother again each time she remarried but it never lasted. I moved back in with my grandparents again and again because of conflicts with my step-father. My step-father was a very stern, strict man and did not like children. School became very important to me. I spent most of my time studying and dancing at the ballet studio. When grandmother Anne died in 1968, I moved to the dormitory at the University, and I later became the first member of my family to earn a bachelor's degree.

I married Phillip Gibson in 1970 who I had met while working at the Motion Picture Hospital as a Nurse's Aid. Phillip was a Respiratory Therapist. We have three children; Danielle, Denise and Tyler.

My name, Richelle, is Scandinavian, from the root Erica, meaning everpowerful. I think I am enterprising, loyal and happy with my creations. I have high standards for myself and others. In many ways I am a typical Scandinavian, although, I have never even been to Europe. I am planning a trip to Europe in June, 1994. I like to keep busy and I enjoy teaching French. I would not consider myself a homemaker, like the majority of my women ancestors because I work outside the home.

A Summary of the Polinski Family Biographies: Antonina Bacherowicz (1885-1959) was born in Poland. She was the daughter of Stanley and Catherine Bacherowicz from the little farming village of Branno which was a few miles northwest of Konin. Branno is in the province of Poznan along the Warta River in central Poland and consisted at the time of 11 houses and 110 people. There was a railroad junction near by and other industry included bricks, furniture, brewing and flour. When Antonina was born, Branno was under Russian occupation. Prussia, Russia and Germany each divided Poland so that it did not exist on the 1850 map.

Antonina Bacherowicz, 21, immigrated through Hamburg and sailed on the Steamer Ship Pisa which arrived at the port of New York. There was a major railroad 300 miles from Poznan to Hamburg on which she must have traveled. She went alone under the name of Antonina Polinska, apparently planning to join her husband. Antonina had married Wladyslaw Polinksi in Poland the year before she left. By 1920, Antonina was still not able to speak English, according to the United States 14th Census. She lived with her family in Cook County Illinois. She was a housewife with five children; Helen, Jenina, Walter, Mieczyshaw, and Sophia. She had a sixth child that must have died as an infant before the year of 1910. It may have been her first baby since the other first three children were born one right after another.

Antonina not only worked in the home, but at one time worked in the stockyard, slaughtering cattle. Wladyshaw Polinski (1882-1952) was a 24 year old farm laborer who immigrated from Branno a year before Antonina. He sailed from Bremen on the Steamer Ship Friedrich de Grosse to the port of New York. His final destination was in Evanston, Illinois. There was an University in Evanston and also a railway system at that time. Evanston was a residential suburb on Lake Michigan. He worked for a carshop and he was a carpenter for a packaging house according to the census records. He later worked as a carpenter for the Santa Fe Railroad.

My mother, Muriel, told me that when I was a couple weeks old, my great-grandfather, Wladyshaw (Walter) went into the room where I was sleeping, to talk to me. When she came back, I had a five dollar bill rolled in my hand. I do not know if I ever saw him again.

Walter died when he was 71 years old in a bus accident when his coat got caught in the door. He had been on his way home from work at his own newspaper stand on 51st Street. He died of shock and hemorrhage following multiple fractures South Town Hospital.

Helen Polinski (1908-1986) was my paternal grandmother. I do not remember ever meeting her although she did try to contact me on several occasions but my family discouraged it without letting me know. She was the first child of my Polish great- grandparents, Antonina and Walter.

Her first husband, Konstansky Francis Budka was a bank teller and father to her two sons, Konstansky Francis Junior (1927) and Richard (1929), who was my father. She divorced Konstansky and later married Rudolf Kottler.

Helen and Rudolf lived with her two sons on South Keeler, in Chicago. Rudolf became a father to the boys and they had little or no contact with their own father, Mr. Budka. The boys used the Kottler name in school, and finally everywhere. That was their choice according to Rudolf. Helen kept the boys in the same grade in school because they were only a year apart.

Helen was a very spunky lady. She worked very hard. They called her "mandraglowa" which in Polish means smart head. She worked at Myers Brothers six days a week. She was employed there for 50 years and retired at age 75, as the credit manager. She was very particular about how she dressed and she had a large collection of earrings to match each outfit that she wore.

Helen is buried in a marble mausoleum with big gold letters in the Evergreen Chapel Crypt. She had been buried originally but Rudolf made arrangements to have her body moved several months later.

Richard Budka was born in 1929, second son of Helen and Konstansky. He was about ten years old when his mother divorced and remarried. He started using his step-father's name, Kottler. He was a small, thin boy who did well in school and according to his brother, he did not have to work very hard.

He married Muriel Williams, a Scandinavian from Chicago. Richard and Muriel were my parents. I was his only child. Richard and Muriel divorced in the early 1950's. He was in the Army as a Sergeant on a tank crew in Korea. My mother said that she really loved him but that she left him because of his drinking problem. His brother Frank said that Muriel's sister Pearl interfered and he blames her for the divorce. When she left him, he was so distraught that he burned everything that was left behind. Frank said that Richard hired a private detective to find me but my mother said that was not true.

Richard never married again. He worked as a heating and air conditioning service man and had a business with his brother, Frank. Frank said that he was not reliable finally had to dissolve the business partnership. Richard would take the days earnings and hit the bars. In addition he would not do the service calls on his agenda for the day. Frank believes that Richard essentially died of a broken heart at the age of 42. He dropped dead on his kitchen floor. His mother stopped by to check in on him and found him dead. He was not working at the time. His mother was paying his rent.

Richard Kottler, my father, who I never knew, is buried at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Evergreen Park. He died on November 4, 1971 just four months after my daughter, his grandchild was born. I was a senior in College. He never knew he had become a grandfather and he never saw me other than as a baby.


According to Giordano & Giordano (1977), "ethnicity involves conscious and unconscious processes that fulfill a deep psychological need for identity and historical continuity." People need to feel like they belong to a group. If they "receive negative or distorted images of their ethnic group or learn values from the larger society that conflict with those of their family, they could develop a sense of inferiority which transforms to self-hate and could lead to aggressive behavior and discrimination towards other ethnic groups." (McGoldrick, 1982, p.5) For example, in James Michener's book, Hawaii, the white protestants from Europe went to the islands to teach new religious values to the Hawaiians and the results were conflicting with the traditional Hawaiian culture at that point in time. In Michener's historical novel, the Hawaiians began to lose their sense of identity. Problems arise when other people do not accept or reinforce this commonality within a culture but instead repeal it. Ethnic identity conflicts cannot be side stepped in psychotherapy. It is imperative that a family therapist be aware of this conflict of identity that can arise with conflicting cultures in order to treat the clients individually and effectively.

When referring to my ethnic group, I initially thought that I did not have one or maybe that I was just a WASP. Since my mother's family is all Scandinavian and I was raised entirely by them, I decided to look into what it meant to be Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian even though I thought that in the third and fourth generation, all links to the past would be lost. What I found in my research instead was astonishing. The characteristics of the Scandinavians are almost a one hundred percent match with my family of origin and my nuclear family, so I will discuss my ethnic group from my point of view as it relates to some commonalities of the Scandinavians.

The Scandinavian's who settled in the midwest brought their network with them and were able to preserve much of their traditional heritage (McGoldrick, 1982). They formed communities, businesses, and churches and settled where the weather paralleled their homeland making a continental move less stressful. My Swedish ancestors married within their own ethnic group for the first two generations which gave the families members more time to aculturate to other ethnic groups and accept intermarriage. Parents always aculturate more slowly whereas their children would be more aculturated instead of remaining a culture within a culture. The Swedes aculturated much faster that many other ethnic groups because except for the very blond hair and fair skin, they blended into the larger society physically and socially. Also they encouraged speaking English in themselves and their children to the extreme of not passing down their language to any succeeding generations. Ella Olson Anderson, my great-grandmother, spoke some Swedish to her older boys, but her youngest Anne, could not speak any Swedish at all.

Most of the Swedish immigrants came to the United States because of the great crop failures in 1868-1869. They did not come to escape oppression (Sennett, 1970). The period between 1874 and 1882 was called "the great exodus" because so many Swedes left their country with a population of only 5 million. Ella and Frank Anderson immigrated during this time period. They were cut-off from their extended families but they were able to find jobs, homes, and hope for a new life in the United States. They were able to survive the depression of 1873 and the great fire of 1871 in Chicago, because they had already experienced hard times in their home land. They were hardy and solid workers and well respected by the non-Swedes in the surrounding communities. After the depression, the World Fair in 1893 in Chicago helped improve the economic conditions in the area. Also the construction of the rail system, the El, created many jobs. Frank Anderson, Herman Williams and Walter Polinski, my great- grandfathers, all worked for the rail system at one time or another.

It must have been difficult for the older ones who stayed behind in Sweden. Many families had all their children leave. Since in Sweden about 39% of the people visit their elderly parents a least weekly (Greely, 1971), parents were left without the support and caring of their children in their old age. But since Scandinavian elderly may be the most reluctant to reveal difficulties to their children and seek their aid (Carter and McGoldrick 1989), it is unlikely that the immigrant children received much criticism or complaints. Scandinavians value a young person's independence.

The translocation of the Andersons and the Williams caused many challenges to the health of the family system. Since they were no longer involved in the farming of the old country, it was no longer needed or economically feasible to have so many children. With the larger family the economic burden is heavier whereas with the small family the emotional "clinch" is greater. My great-grandmother, Ella Anderson had nine children and my other great-grandmother, Ellen Williams had five. The next generation had no more than three children. With less children, child rearing methods had to change to adjust to the problems of a smaller family and more time and attention given to each child. Also health care improved and the infant death rate decreased. Ella lost two babies, Ellen lost three children and Antonina lost one baby. It was common for families at that time to lose infants. The baby sections of the cemetery are full for that period of the great exodus. The succeeding generations in my family did not have to deal with the loss of a child but still had the tendency to over focus on each child of a smaller family because of the losses suffered by the older generations. This appears to have caused problems with the children because they were not as responsible with their independence as their grandparents had been. According to Aries (Sennett, 1970), the young nurtured too long would have difficulties in the world. This over focus on each child had serious implications in the fourth generation children.

Another problem in child rearing for the translocated families was the fact that immigrants from Scandinavia and Poland had no other extended family members to help train the children as they had in the old country. Their children had no grandparents, old aunts or uncles to tell stories, and pass on their wisdom to the youngsters and their adult children. Back in the old country the children were given work and responsibility at a very young age. According to Aries (Sennett, 1970), "as the child matures he will not have the direct experience of the world of adults gained by being in their company for most of the time or by being treated as one of them." Initially 93% of adolescents in Chicago were employed (Sennett 1970). This rate fell dramatically in the next generation.

So examining the family dynamics of the Anderson family and the Williams family, the problems of child rearing were passed down to their children, even more greatly so to the grandchildren, and also to the great-grandchildren and great- great-grandchildren because of the cut-off from their family of origin left on an entire different continent. My maternal grandmother, Anne Anderson's daughters had 7 divorces between the two of them. Anne's older sister Elizabeth's son, Otto, committed suicide. Also some of the offspring of my ancestors had no children, such as Anne's brothers Andrew Anderson, Carl Anderson and her niece, Irene Breka. This fact may indicate that some of the children of the immigrants might have felt lost in the shuffle with no extended families to help care for the young to the point were they never wanted any children of their own. Andrew's wife had many abortions in a period of time when abortions were very socially unacceptable and illegal. They went to a great deal of trouble to insure that they had no children. Over focus because of great economic burden and fatal illness for the immigrants produced less parenting and child rearing skills in their children and grandchildren. The adjustment phase of the transcontinental move produced problems into the fourth and fifth generations.

Family secrets which functioned as respect for family privacy in the old county were more damaging to the family system of the immigrants in the United States. When interviewing the third generation for my research, they had very little to say about their parents, no stories, no information, all secrets. Talk about cultural heritage would have helped instill values and ethnic pride in the succeeding generations. Instead in the Anderson family, family secrets stifled the process of differentiation of the younger generations. According to Carter and McGoldrick (1989), any life cycle transition can trigger ethnic identity conflicts and people lose a sense of who they are.

The family system of my Polish relatives from my father's side progressed in a similar manner upon their arrival in the United States. They experienced infant deaths, cut off from the extended family, and decreased family size. The Polish people however had endured years of oppression and hardships in their homeland being split up and fought over by Prussia, Germany and Russia. Poland had serious economic problems when the farmers earned low prices for the food they grew but the government charged high prices for farm equipment and supplies they needed (Michener 1983). Walter Polinski, my great-grandfather, had been a farm laborer in Poland. He earned enough for his passage to the United States and in one year he was able to send for his wife. The Polish families also banded together, a culture, within a culture but later they did not aculturate as fast as the Scandinavians. Walter's wife, Antonina was in the United States for ten years and she still could not speak English. Helen her daughter spoke Polish and even taught her non-Polish husband to speak Polish. The Poles were not known to socialize outside of their culture and the Polish women lived initially in a traditional family where women did not go beyond the sphere of their home. (Greely, 1969). The Poles were not as eager to get out in the mainstream culture where they meet up with prejudice and discrimination. They suffered from more of what the anthropologists call "culture shock."

The family system of the Polinski Family suffered similar distortions as the Swedish Anderson Family. Problems due to cut- off from the values of the extended family systems and loss of cultural identity showed up in a grandchild, Richard Kottler, my biological father. Depressed, irresponsible and unable to maintain a successful relationship, he died from self neglect and alcoholism at the age of 42, separated from his biological father and his only child. His mother, Helen, was a hard working prideful Polish woman but Richard was lost and dysfunctional without a sense of who he was. He did not even succeed at locating his daughter or helping to provide for her. As Richard's daughter, I was cut-off from my family in Chicago and the whole Polish side of my heritage, which left me with a loss of my own cultural identity and a profound sense of sadness. The dislocations in the family system can be a continual series and leave a family unstable for generations to come.


Ethnic values and identification can remain for generations after immigration but just as emotional cut-off from family members can interrupt differentiation so can being cut-off from one's own heritage. The third, fourth and especially fifth generation after a transcontinental move can lose their ethnic value system and historical background which is a essential psychological need. Freud called it a "deep commonality." (McGoldrick, 1982)

I am a member of the third generation since my Scandinavian and Polish ancestors immigrated from Europe between 1880 and 1906. My children are fourth generation. As a third generation member of my family, I had lost contact with the cultural traditions and awareness of what it meant to be Swedish or Polish. I never discussed it with my children because I had lost touch with my link to my families history.

Participating in a history of extended family of origin project provided the lost link I needed to reconnect to my lost family and the stories of my ancestor's past. I never knew if my father was alive or if he even wanted to meet me. The search for my father gave me a sense of attainment. I experienced the disappointment of the lost hope of meeting him, and sadness and grief for the way that he died but I found his brother, a grandfather, and cousins who knew of my birth. I heard many stories of my Polish family, some of which included me. I found out that I have many personality traits in common with my grandmother, Helen, even though, I do not remember her. This experience was a differentiating move for myself, my nuclear family and my family of origin. I have stories to pass down to my children and their future children. This type of family process places the therapist-genealogist in emotional contact with all surviving members of a large family system who start to work together with a new reason for renewed contact and enthusiasm. The project instilled a vital force of ethnic identity in many of my family members. They are purposely involved in the research, personal interviews, visits, travels, letter writing, phone calls and documenting family information. They all received copies of charts, records, photographs and narratives and are asked for more input which gives them a reason to keep in touch. Charts and posters are discussed and left out to stimulate interest, questions and ethnic awareness of the younger family members as well. I am still receiving information and requests for information from formerly cut-off family members. Some family members have started projects of their own and have sent me biographies to include in the written history.

My own personal goal is to try to remain in contact and continue to locate missing members by attending weddings of relatives and other major events that I might not have normally have participated in. I plan to meet with my great-aunt Hannah's son Glenn and give him a copy of his family information personally. I had never meet him before or even heard about him.

The extended family history in itself can change the dynamics in the family system of the family of the therapist and in his future clients. The purpose is dual fold; the quest for roots in the author as a personal and family growth process and the personal ethnic awareness to increase the insight of the therapist into the trans-generational transmission process by direct exposure. This increased awareness will generate questions in therapy to encourage talk of ethnicity when appropriate. When structuring a genogram, the family therapist can be aware of the fact that what is normal for one ethnic group, can be quite different for another.

Ethnicity remains a vital force in the United States in the 90's. Group differences need to be considered within the whole. This is not the great American "melting pot." Ethnicity relates to the family process to the broader context from which it evolves and is a major determinant of our family patterns and belief systems. A family systems therapist will have a difficult time relating to the ethnic patterns of the clients unless he or she has established his own ethnic identity and can relate to that of the clients in therapy. The family of origin genealogy can reconnect the family therapist with his own lost roots and this new commonality can be transmitted onto the younger generation. Just as individuation requires that we come to terms with our families of origin, it also requires that we come to terms with our own cultural heritage.


Anonymous, (1972). Toward the differentiation of self in one's own family. Conference on Systematic Research on Family Interaction, Western Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, 1967. In James L. Framo (Ed.) Family Interaction; A dialogue between family researchers and family therapists. New York: Springer Publishing Company, pp. 111-173.

Baxter, Angus, (1985). In Search of Your European Roots. Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore.

Carter, Betty & McGoldrick, Monica, (1989). The Changing Family Life Cycle. Allyn and Bacon, Needham, Heights, M.A.

Eakel, Arlene & Cerny, John, (1988). The Source. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, S.L.C.

Eakel, Arlene & Cerny, John, (1987). A Guide to the L.D.S. Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, S.L.C.

Eichholz, Alice, Ph.D., C.G., (1992). Ancestry's Redbook. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, S.L.C.

Everton, George, Jr., (1991). The Handbook for Genealogists. Everton Publishers, Inc. Greely, A. M., (1969). Why Can't They Be Like Us? Institute of Human Relations, Press, New York.

Johansson, Carl Erik, (1972). Cradled in Sweden. Everton Publishers, Inc. Logan, Utah.

Kirkham, Kay E., (1988). A Handy Guide to Record-Searching in the Larger Cities of the United States. Logan, Utah: the Everton Publishers, Inc.

La Tempa, Susan, (1993, January 24). On a Quest for Roots. The Chicago Tribune, Section 12, Pg.12.

Michener, James A., (1982). Poland. Fawcett Crest, New York.

McGoldrick, Monica & Pearce, John K., & Giordano, Joseph, (1982). Ethnicity and Family Therapy. The Guilford Press, New York.

Olsson, Nils William, (1987). Tracing Your Swedish Ancestry. Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, Uppsala.

Sennett, Richard, (1970). Families Against the City Middle Class Homes of Industrial Chicago, 1872-1890. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Table of Contents| Phillips Publications| Phillips Home Page

Copyright 1994 by Phillips Graduate Institute. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form--except for brief quotations (not to exceed 500 words) in any review or professional work--without permission in writing from the publishers.

Return to Phillips Graduate Institute home page