Constellating Lineage

January 12, 2021
Constellating Lineage
“…ancestral work…flickers between phantasm and dull data, projection and resemblance, lore and lies. As you piece together your fragile tissue of tales, persons, and relations, it becomes clear that this pattern takes shape against oblivion, which grows more intimate at the same time....” -Erik Davis

Workshop Description

Constellating Lineage is a 6-session workshop series that invites participants to explore their family history, heritage, and story(ies).

What stories are told again and again within our families? What stories have been ignored or left out, intentionally or not? What can these stories teach us in these times? When we revisit the past with curiosity, humility, and care, it can create opportunities to listen for new or deeper meaning, even in the most enduring stories and family traditions. We may also find openings to seek out and integrate stories that can be of use to us now. Through the process we may build and deepen relationships with people we love, and, perhaps, rework parts of our story in need of repair or revising.

Over our 6 months together, we will:

-consider the relationship between story, tradition, and ritual;

-learn interviewing skills and archival research methods;

-explore how to preserve and create meaningful products from family stories and ephemera;

-contextualize our family story within our national story(ies); and

-integrate new stories, traditions, and rituals, if desired, into our family narrative. 

Each month will feature a guest who will share personal and/or professional knowledge and experience with our cohort.

Some themes participants may choose to explore are immigration and migration stories, networks of support (i.e. mentors, neighbors, allies), and the dynamics of family traditions and rituals in the process of "becoming American." Participants are encouraged to consider how gender, race, religion and other forms of identity shape their family story(ies).  

Contemplative Writing

Participants who seek an opportunity to deepen personal inquiry on course themes may choose to take the contemplative writing that will be offered in tandem with the six-month series. Writing exercises will facilitate reflection and inquiry on intersections of family and nation, memory and story. The writing workshop also offers opportunities for participants to share what we are discovering with one another in structured small group work, and to begin to shape emerging insights into formal writing pieces in genres of our choosing. Taught by Miranda Mellis.

Why this? Why now?

We offer this series at a moment when the need to connect is both hampered and heightened, especially with loved ones who are most vulnerable and isolated by the pandemic. This workshop is for anyone interested in a structured process and tools to connect with their loved ones to explore their family heritage – from a personal, artistic, and/or academic perspective. The pandemic has also called into question our foundational national stories – of individualism and meritocracy and the "American Dream." This series can also be an opportunity to seek out and strengthen narratives that tell a different story about who we are and how we want to live together, from the perspective of our personal family history. No previous experience in cultural documentation, oral history, or genealogy is necessary to participate. Just come with curiosity and an open heart.


Meets 3rd Saturday, 10AM-12PM, beginning February 20 and ending July 17. Contemplative Writing meets the same dates from 1-3PM. All sessions will be held via zoom.

Session 1, Feb 20
Getting Started: establishing a framework and project plan
We tell stories through the food we grow and prepare, the songs and dances we perform, the handicrafts we make….Oral traditions express who we are and what matters most. In this session, we’ll consider family history within the context of oral traditions, identify what we most want to understand about our family history, and begin to draft a project plan. Led by Elaine Vradenburgh, Window Seat Media.

Session 2, Mar 20
The art of the interview: tips, techniques, and tools
This session will focus the art of the interview. We’ll practice our listening skills, consider how to spark memories and make a meaningful connection, learn recording techniques and technology, and explore ethical considerations of recording other peoples’ stories. We will spend some time during this session brainstorming who to interview and developing our questions. Led by Elaine Vradenburgh, Window Seat Media.

Session 3, Apr 17
Enrich Your Family History with Archival Research
Looking for your family can be found in some of the most interesting government records, two words that are rarely used together. These collections go beyond just your standard vital records and can open up a whole new world of resources to use while filling in the details. This is especially fun for those who are trying to piece family stories together. Listen to a few stories from our stacks and some tips and tricks on using archives to find your family’s records. Led by Tracy Rebstock, WA State Archives.

Session 4, May 15
Creating a family archive: preserving stories and ephemera
A family archive can include a great variety of materials that tell a family’s story, such as journals, letters, photographs, scrapbooks, audio and video tapes, and so much more. Incorporating good preservation practices into your family archive is vital for keeping those records intact and accessible for future generations to enjoy. In this session, we’ll discuss some simple preservation tips that can apply to all materials in your family archive, as well as special preservation measures that can be taken for specific media types. You are encouraged to bring questions about preservation issues you might be dealing with in your own family archive, which will be discussed at the end of the session. Led by Mary Hammer, WA State Archives

Session 5, June 19
Integration: weaving stories into family traditions and rituals, old and new
There's a reason the wedding ditty "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" has persisted through the years. The best rituals carry our stories by conveying traditions from the past into a contemporary context, reminding us of our interdependence, and evoking a sensory experience of the world. Many of us grew up not knowing much about our lineage, the stories or traditions of those who came before us. Others may know our own family lore but little of the stories of the place we now call home. Through guided discussion, this class will explore how the stories that need to be shared can find expression through do-it-yourself rituals and updated family traditions. Led by
Holly Pruett, Consultant, Writer, Celebrant, Community Organizer.

Session 6, July 17
10am-12pm - Group reflection, led by Elaine Vradenburgh and Miranda Mellis


We balance our value of accessibility with our need to honor the actual value of the skills and knowledge shared by offering this workshop on a very large sliding scale. Fees go toward paying presenters and special guests and covering administrative costs of offering this workshop. You may choose to pay monthly (per session) or all at once.

Workshop Only
Pay all at once: Sliding scale from $150 to $600
Pay monthly (over 6 months): Sliding scale from $25/month to $100/month

Workshop, plus Contemplative Writing
Pay all at once: Sliding scale from $250 to $1,200
Pay monthly (over 6 months): Sliding scale from $40/month to $200/month

Please contact if the cost is prohibitive.

Register - Workshop Only

Register - Workshop, plus Contemplative Writing

Workshop Facilitators & Presenters

Elaine Vradenburgh, Curator, Window Seat Media
Elaine is an oral historian, multimedia storyteller and educator. She has carried out her work through various roles — as a fundraiser and communications manager in arts and social service organizations in Olympia, a community-based learning coordinator at public high schools in Portland and Albuquerque, and an adjunct faculty at The Evergreen State College. She has been cultivating a community-driven oral history practice at Window Seat Media since its founding in 2017. Elaine holds a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies: Folklore, Anthropology, and Journalism from the University of Oregon and a BA in Cultural and Community Studies from The Evergreen State College.

Holly Pruett, Consultant, Writer, Celebrant, Community Organizer
Holly Pruett has been a lifelong storycatcher and storyteller: from spending her senior year in high school capturing the voices of public school teachers; to college oral history projects with survivors of Japanese American internment camps and her own Italian immigrant grandmother; to telling the stories of sexual assault survivors, and later gay and lesbian couples, as a tool for social change. Now as a Life-Cycle Celebrant and Home Funeral Guide based in Portland, Oregon, Holly helps families and communities integrate the power of their stories into rituals and ceremonies. A well-known conversation leader and consultant, Holly co-created the public-interest website Oregon Funeral Resources & Education and is a founder of PDX Death Café and the Death Talk Project. She studies with Stephen Jenkinson's Orphan Wisdom School, is certified in Thanatology by the Association for Death Education & Counseling, and has a Masters Degree in Applied Behavioral Science.

Mary Hammer,
Digital Projects and Preservation Archivist, Washington State Archives
Mary Hammer is the Digital Projects and Preservation Archivist at the Washington State Archives, and has been there for 15 years. She loves working with and preserving archival materials that show the many ways Washington State and its citizens have adapted and changed over time. She earned a BA in Art History from University of Utah, and an MS in Library Science from Simmons College in Boston, MA.

Miranda Mellis, Faculty, Evergreen State College
Miranda Mellis is the author of Demystifications (forthcoming 2021, Solid Objects). Other books and chapbooks include The Instead (co-authored with Emily Abendroth), The SpokesNone of This Is RealThe Quarry and The Revisionist. She is an occasional columnist at The Logger. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction and has been anArtist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts and the Millay Colony. Collaborations include co-founding The Encyclopedia Project and, more recently, interdisciplinary public workshops with Creature Conserve and the Endangered Species Coalition. She teaches at The Evergreen State College.

Tracy Rebstock, Washington State Archives
Born and raised in a small town in Ohio, Tracy Rebstock is the Olympia Branch Manager at the Washington State Archives in Olympia, WA where she oversees acquisitions and research services.  Tracy has a BA in History from the University of Cincinnati, a MLIS from Kent State University, and a MA in Public History from Eastern Washington University. She started her career as a librarian and made the transition to archivist in 2013. She enjoys yoga, hiking, and cooking with her husband.

Special Guests

Each week a special guest will visit to share a bit about their own family history project, their research process, and what they have done with what they have learned.

Inye Wokoma

Shaw Osha

Meg Rosenberg

Linda Strever is the author of My Life in Cars (poetry), Against My Dreams (poetry) and Don’t Look Away (fiction). Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies. Winner of the LoisCranston Memorial Poetry Prize, her work has been a finalist for the New IssuesPoetry Prize, the Levis Poetry Prize, the Ohio State University Press Award inPoetry and the Eludia Award in fiction. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has anMFA from Brooklyn College.

"I was called to explore the life of my Norwegian immigrant grandmother, Gunnhild Olavsdatter Breland, when I found myself writing a few poems in her voice, as if she were speaking them. She was an important figure in my early life, but I lost her twice in a sense, first to mental illness whenI was a child and then again in my teens to early onset dementia. While she lived to be almost 95, I realized that I knew very little about her life beyond my memories of her in her prime and the bare bones of her story—dates of important life events, places she lived, a few studio photos of her wedding and her young children. I wanted to reclaim her, to explain her mental illness to myself, and to understand her as a full, vibrant, multidimensional human being.

 My research was led by questions that went far deeper than facts could answer. What were the early influences on her life? Why did she emigrate to America? What was it like to be an immigrant in the early 20th Century? What was meaningful to her? How did she overcome obstacles? What made her happy? What were her dreams for herself? What did she struggle with? What did she notice and feel and think?  

The bulk of my research was done before the internet evolved and took many forms, including novels and history books, letter exchanges with extended family in Norway, interviews, visits to cultural museums and relevant sites, and eventually travel to Norway, where I heard family stories and folktales that were completely new to me. My grandmother’s life spanned the 20th Century, and her story is part of the fabric of the collective American story.It’s also the story of a particular woman, marginalized by gender, national origin, mental illness and social class, who survived, who created a life and made mine possible. I came to understand the greater context of her life, the forces that made her who she was, and her legacy.

 My exploration resulted in a collection of narrative poetry, Against My Dreams. My research and the publication of the poems took me on an odyssey filled with discoveries, life changing events and new connections with both family members and strangers. I came to understand in a deeper way who I am and to experience the power of stories to transform and connect all of us, no matter who we are."