Lineage of Women



“How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers’ names.”~Alice Walker



A lineage of women.

I once participated in a dance workshop for women only. It was a beautiful experience. I normally dance each week with both women and men in the 5Rhythms. At this one workshop for women only, we were asked at the beginning of the weekend to introduce ourselves as the daughter of the mother that gave us life, and as the granddaughter of the mother that gave our mother life. We were also asked to introduce ourselves in relation to who we’d given life to.

I’m Julie,
daughter of Joan,
granddaughter of Pauline,
great-granddaughter of Clarissa,
mother of Jacqueline and Jennifer,
grandmother of Lucas, Aveline, Jamison, and Dante.

A Lineage of Women

This experience of introducing ourselves by way of our mother and her mother was incredibly female affirming. I sat and soaked the names in, along with the feelings that arose in each woman as she spoke the names of her matriline (a mother line – one’s purely female ancestry). While seemingly simple, something profound was honored, and awakened, as we acknowledged the line of women we came from, and the line of children we had borne.


A lineage of women:
daughter of Joan,
daughter of Pauline,
daughter of Clarissa,
daughter of Charlotte…


Recently, I traveled to the Chicago area with my two sisters for a family wedding. We decided to make a pilgrimage to our great-grandmother’s house in Park Ridge, a small town just near the airport.

With some help from my mother’s cousin, my sisters and I found the family home on South Crescent. This was the house my great-grandmother and great-grandfather had built in 1908. My grandmother grew up in this house. My grandmother was married to my grandfather in this house. My mother was born in this house. My mother’s cousins were born in this house, too.

Before my mother’s death two years ago, she spoke often of her childhood in Park Ridge. She spoke often of her grandmother with fondness, and with a bit of awe. It was a curious feeling to enter the house. It had recently been sold to new owners who were remodeling it before their third child came into the world. This was in June, the baby was due in July, so I imagine she has arrived by now. The owner was there and graciously gave us a tour of the entire place, basement to attic. As I walked through the rooms, it was as if I had been transported back eighty to one hundred years. So much had happened there in the lives of my matriline.


Strong Women, Strong Lineage

“…to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers’ names.”

My great-grandmother was a healer, a well-known Christian Science healer in that area. She was strong, vibrant, independent. She had to be. Her husband contracted TB and became very ill. She had to put him in a sanitorium, where eventually he died. She had to take care of her family, an extended family that included her siblings.

My grandmother and mother were also strong women. They had to be. They found their strength deep inside, brought it out into their actions when it became necessary to do so, for the sake of their children, and the sake of their family. This strength is in all women. Strength and wisdom.

Wisdom in the Matriline

I feel there is wisdom in the matriline. I learned something about myself that day. I soaked up wisdom… a knowing of myself in a different way, a different light. While I had heard much about these women from my mother, and knew my grandmother fairly well, when I walked through the rooms of this house and felt into all that had happened there, I knew myself in a new way.

It’s been a few weeks since I returned from this trip, and all the while this wisdom has been working on me, and through me.

I now more clearly see these women, not just as my ancestors, but as people who lived lives that were sometimes good, many times hard and painful, but always indescribably beautiful. I feel the lineage of women within me. I can now see the room where my mother was born, the rooms my grandmother played in, the rooms my great-grandmother grieved, celebrated and grew old in.

What a gift it is to feel this lineage within me. In some way, yet unknown, I will pass the knowing and wisdom down to my daughters. I can feel it. It is already happening in ways unseen.

As I write this, I become keenly aware that this wisdom had always been here. Perhaps, it’s just been activated by visiting Nanny Ruh’s house. We all have access to women’s wisdom.

The wisdom of women isn’t clearly articulated, laid out analytically, in a straightforward manner. Rather, it circles, curves and winds its way around. It appears in the moment, if we’re paying attention. It shows up in symbols and in unexpected connections. Like the moon as it shines on water at night, womens’ wisdom illuminates that which is unseen.

I have come to see we can open to this wisdom of our matriline, whether we can go back to a physical place or not…the wisdom is here if we drop deep into our bodies and open to the moonlight.

In ways unseen

Jen Louden writes: “…every writer has to learn to live – and even thrive– in the gap. Creating actually happens in the gap.”

We enter into unknown territory as we write something new. This is where creation happens. In the unknown. Something completely unexpected, and absolutely delightful, appeared in the gap today as I wrote this post. I didn’t know where the writing would take me. I had considered writing about this pilgrimage since I returned home to Berkeley, but as I mentioned, I could feel the wisdom working on me, so I waited.

As I sat down to write, the painting above (and below) popped into my head. It’s a painting I have hanging in my bedroom, of the moon shining on the water. It’s really lovely…this picture of it here doesn’t do it justice.


I found this painting in my mother’s house after she died. She had collected many things throughout her years, things that were passed down through the family, as well as things she picked up in her travels to the second-hand stores and flea markets. As we went through her collection of paintings, we kept the ones that were obviously family heirlooms. We gave most of the others to the Goodwill. This one painting, of the moon on the water, I grabbed as an afterthought. I had so many of mom’s things already, but as I turned away from the items we were leaving, something told me to turn back and take this one home. I liked it enough, but I kept it because it called to me. I hung it in my bedroom, because it called to me.

I took the painting off the wall to get a snapshot of it as I wrote today’s post. The first one didn’t turn out, so I began to clean any dust off of it to try to capture a better one. As I did, I noticed the initials in the bottom corner:

C.R. ’99

My great-grandmother’s name was Clarissa Ruh, but we had always called her Nanny Ruh, which is what my mother called her. I just recently remembered her first name on our trip back to the wedding in June. Nanny Ruh was a painter. We have a few of her paintings spread throughout the family, but none of them have her signature. My great-cousin, Nanny’s other granddaughter, told me when we were with her at this family wedding that Nanny didn’t sign her pictures because she didn’t want to seem presumptuous – she simply wanted to paint. I don’t really know the whole story, but none of the paintings we have have her signature on them…except this one.

Just now, in writing this post, I discovered that this painting was also done by Nanny Ruh. I could hardly believe my eyes. Something unknown and unseen found its way into the light of the moon. This is an unimaginable gift. I don’t believe my mother knew that Nanny Ruh painted this picture, because she told us many times to take great care of the paintings she knew were painted by Nanny. This painting was stuck in a place with so many things that were simply flea market finds. Somehow, I came to know something that had been lost back in the matriline. Now, my daughters have another gift from their matriline, one among many.


And, you?

I’d love for you to share your mothers’ names with us, to introduce yourself by way of your mother, and your mother’s mother, by leaving a comment below. I think there is something powerful in speaking these names into the world.


What of your matriline?

What do you know?

What has yet to be discovered?

What wisdom is there, perhaps in the unseen, waiting for you to ask into it, to know yourself as your mothers’ names?

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39 Replies to “Lineage of Women”

  1. I am Shawna, daughter of Shirley, daughter of Luella, daughter of Goldie. I recently did a ritual in Personal Mythology where I imagined stepping into their lives and acting out what they did and what they believed. It was a very powerful experience.

    It is so cool that the painting is by your great-grandmother. It’s a beautiful picture.

  2. Julie,

    What a beautiful post. I am moved by the entire thing, but especially by the discovery of the painting. I struggle to find the affirmation and wisdom and beauty in my matriline. And it’s a topic that seems to be swirling around me lately. This post highlighted how far I still have to go. Your story and memory and experience obviously touched a deep place for you. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  3. Thank you, Renae. Thank you for sharing about your experience with your matriline. I’d love to know your mothers’ names. I feel there’s great power in sharing them with others, with acknowledging them aloud. Maybe you don’t have far to go at all…maybe it’s all right here, now, already.
    Great love to you, Sister.

    1. Or maybe it’s somewhere in between – sort of like me.

      I am Renae, daughter of Jan, daughter of Flaudie, daughter of Virgie. I am Renae, mother of Courtney and Sarah.

  4. Julie,
    I love this post, and share your belief in the power of the matriline. I’ve written about that quote and returned to it over and over again. It is in search of our mother’s gardens that we find our own, no?
    I wrote my thesis in college on the mother-daughter relationship and feared, if I am being honest, that the universe would conspire to give me only sons. I feel so grateful to have Grace, though of course I also adore my son.
    I am the daughter of Susan, granddaughter of Priscilla, and mother of Grace.

    1. Beautiful, Lindsey. I can only imagine how eloquent your thesis must be, knowing what I do of your soulful writing. Thank you for introducing us to your mother and daughter. Blessings.

  5. It gives me chills to think of you making that discovery! How very cool!

    I am Heather, daughter of Margaret, step-daughter of Susannah (I just realized I don’t know my Mom’s real mom’s name – she died when my mom was six – I must rectify that.)

    Have you ever written an “I am From” post? I found it to be a really powerful way to think about my lineage. Mine’s here…

    There’s a template here and a link to the original poem here…

    1. Heather,
      It’s pretty cool, isn’t it!?
      Lovely to meet your mothers’ names. Your post is wonderful. I loved reading about where you are from. I just may try that one. Thank you, dear.

  6. It is such a blessing to connect with our ancestors. And much needed today as we revive the Feminine! “Like the moon as it shines on water at night, womens’ wisdom illuminates that which is unseen.” Yes. Julie, thanks for sharing the wisdom of your matriline, for gently discovering the power waiting to be seen and felt..May we all connect to our feminine lineage, the line that “circles, curves and winds its way around.” Absolutely beautiful dear!
    You are inspiring me to write a post about mine at some point, when the moment ripens. Much love and respect to the women that came before us and who live in our hearts and bodies.
    Marjory, daughter of Margarita, daughter of Graciela, daughter of Florita, daughter of Juanita.

    1. Dear Marjory,
      Thank you for sharing your mothers’ names. “Much love and respect to the women that came before us and who live in our hearts and bodies.” I love this line you’ve written, here. This is so much the sentiment that I felt as I wrote this piece. It is about love and respect to the women that came before. No mother is perfect, yet she does her best to leave a legacy of love. Blessings to you, dear.

  7. I am Carla
    Daughter of Nancy
    GrandDaughter of Mary Elizabeth
    Ah… I don’t know my great grand mother’s name~!
    It isn’t Granny
    I am grandmama Carla to Flannery

  8. What a wonderful idea! I am LaVonne, daughter of Dorothy, daughter of Sara – that’s as far back as I go, sadly. I’ve often thought that daughters should take their mothers’ surnames and sons take their fathers’, as in Anderson. In Scandinavia, daughters can choose to do so, so my name could be LaVonne Dorothysdotter — or as I like to think of it: Dottiesdotter.

    1. LaVonne, I love that…Dottiesdotter. I know some cultures do that. Thank you for introducing us to your mothers’ names. Blessings.

  9. I loved reading that story, thank you! I am Julia, daughter of Robbie, daughter of Adeline. Step-mom to Ariel and Mom to Spencer and Kyler. Ahhh that feels so good to write and acknowledge. Despite the many twists in the road, I am part of a long, sacred, beautiful legacy : ) Thanks.

    1. Thank you, Julie, for sharing this with us. Even when the journey is filled with twists, pain, and who knows what else, it is still a long and beautiful legacy. Thank you.

  10. Matriarchal lineage? Realistically mine might read:
    I am Teresa
    daughter of Teresa
    mother of Teresa

    Some of us end up doing this on our own.

    Hugs and butterflies,

  11. Hello I am Cheryl-Ann, daughter of Ann, Granddaughter of Ella, Great Granddaughter of Annie, mother to Ben. I truly loved this post on the lineage of woman and thank you for sharing such personal insights into the wisdom of the importance of both discovering our matriline and continuing to connect with our family – past and present.

    1. Cheryl,
      Thank you for your beautiful comment. It is an honor to meet you and your mothers’ names. I so appreciate you sharing your wisdom and stopping by here. Blessings.

  12. I am Karen,
    daughter of Phyllis,
    daughter of Anna,
    daughter of Pearl,
    daughter of a woman who was funloving and irrepressible,
    daughter of a woman who was a Talmud scholar,
    daughter of a woman who had been brain-damaged at birth.

    I am Karen,
    mother of ideas,
    mother of gifts,
    mother of words,
    mother to those I inspire.

    While I don’t have any children of my body, your heralding our matriline makes me see that what I bring into the world is nonetheless that part of my lineage that carries forward in time, all the same. What a strong clarion-call of legitimacy, for me, to feel that.

    Thank you Julie, daughter of Joan, daughter of Pauline, daughter of Clarissa,
    mother of Jacqueline and Jennifer, mothers of Lucas, Aveline and Jamison.

    1. Karen,
      “What a strong clarion-call of legitimacy, for me, to feel that.” Tears are falling after reading these words of yours. Legitimacy. Oh, yes. What you bring into the world no one else can. It is from your lineage, from you, from your sacred gifts that only you can share with the world. Thank you Karen, daughter of Phyllis, daughter of Anna, daughter of Pearl, mother of ideas, mother of gifts, mother of words, mother to those I inspire. Blessings to you.

  13. Hello
    I am Katharine, daughter of Constance, daughter of Eleanor, daughter of…
    A challenging introduction as my grandmother was adopted (no records) and then died during my mother’s infancy. I, too, sense the deep power of the matriline, and am suddenly, acutely aware of the void created by the unknowingness of mine.

  14. Wow Julie, this really struck a chord…your discovery relied on one simple thing…being open to and acknowledging something you were drawn to. I smiled when I realized that womans’ intuition played a role in strengthening your connection to your matriline.
    daughter of Celia
    granddaughter of Unity
    Mother of Paige and Dylan

  15. forgot to say…writing my matriline brought tears to my eyes…off to process and dig a little deeper 🙂

  16. Thank you, Julie, for a beautiful post!

    I am Susan
    daughter of Marianne
    daughter of Cecilia
    daughter of Mary Ann
    sister of Casey.

    Thank you to Karen, too: I, too, have no children of my body. But I am

    daughter of music
    daughter of wonder
    daughter of perseverance
    mother of friendship
    mother of words
    mother of laughter

  17. hey darlin. it’s me, jeanne.
    daughter of ada,
    daughter of katie belle.
    daughter of missouri ann.
    daughter of sarah.

    you know, sometimes i include my other grandmothers and beyond, too, because i know they are important to the woman i am today. it gets confusing and gives me a headache, but it still seems an important thing to do sometimes.

    oh that painting, julie. it just so perfectly epitomizes the marrow i take from this post: a one-of-a-kind treasure hidden right there in plain view.

  18. To the writer of this blog (my MOM!) thank you for sharing this! I know you told me I would discover something exciting when I read this post, but I had no idea! I can’t wait to see the painting and know that my great-great-grandmother painted it with her own hands. What a beautiful story.

    I am Jackie, daughter of Julie, granddaughter of Joan, great-granddaughter of Pauline. I am Jackie, mother to Lucas and Jamison.

  19. This was so beautiful and inspiring! Gave me an opportunity to discover so much about the strong women from whom I come. I look forward to finding out more. Thanks so much!

  20. I’m Katharine Gresley, daughter of Rosanne, daughter of Gresley Patricia, (the bishop was drunk when she was baptized. It was supposed to be the other way around) daughter of Rosina. I bow 9 times to the new moon– the first moment I see the crescent. I do it because my mother does it, as her mother did and her mother… As I live in Manhattan, I sometimes get funny looks when I do this. But its a tradition that has been passed down through the matriline for who knows how long. Its important to me. What an amazing painting. I’m so happy your Clarissa signed it. So happy you found it and shared the gift.

  21. There is so much healing potential to be found in being willing to look back into the matriline of our ancestors and embracing them fully with compassion for the beauty of their imperfect humanity! 😉

  22. I am Alyson
    daughter of Denise,
    granddaughter of (Philomene) Jeanne,
    great-granddaughter of Regina,
    great-great-granddaughter of Marie,
    mother of Anna and Erika,
    A lineage of women.

    I’ve only been reading your blog since I met you at WDS, and each time I do, I end up wandering happily in the labyrinth of the archives. On Monday, I found this post, and am happy to be able to answer the names of my mother’s mothers.

    Because the research into the names of my ancestors has shown me how easily women’s names get lost, I vowed to make certain that my daughters get copies of the information that my wonderful, witty, and family-tree researching cousin, Loren (daughter of Jen, granddaughter of Philomene, great-granddaughter of Regina, great-great-granddaughter of Marie, mother of Jordan and Tamar) sent to me.

    Having the names of my ancestors back until the 1600s has changed the way that I see myself and my story. Thank you for this prompt to go searching.

  23. I am Bridget,
    daughter of Diane,
    daughter of Genevieve
    daughter of Pearl,
    daughter of Nettie

    and I am Bridget,
    mother of Rubin
    mother of Ike.

    My mother nearly died when I was born. So happy she didn’t.
    My grandmother put herself through college during the depression.
    My great-grandmother made cookies for soldiers on trains.
    My great-great-grandmother was deeply loved and died young.

    I am so happy to know that I come from strong women, who spoke their minds, and pushed through the hard times. I am blessed.
    And I am happy to raise sons who love and respect and honor women.

  24. Ahh, but I am also daughter and granddaugher through the paternal line….

    Jeanie Marie, daughter of Dana Louise, daughter of Betty Jo, daughter of Ruby. Temporary Mother to a little curly haired dream girl with no name.

  25. I am Sharon, daughter of Dolores
    Who was daughter of Charlotte
    Who was daughter of Nellie
    I am Mother of Mason
    Mother of Hunter
    Mother of Max

    I was raised in a very patriarchal family in the deep south. My Mother died when I was only 15, and my early years were greatly influenced by the strong men in my life. Around age 40, I began a journey of discovering more about my Mother. The more I learn about her and her Mothers, the more connected I feel to the divine feminine. This has been very empowering for me. I believe they are my guardian angels.
    Thank you for this post.

    1. Dear Sharon,

      How beautiful. It’s wonderful to meet you. I love how you’ve expressed your connection between your maternal lineage and the divine feminine. It’s a powerful important connection for women.

      I’m glad to know you.


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