Finding Meaning

Share this:

Your Own Family History

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

Life is a fast-moving stream—chaotic, ever changing, uncertain. To find real meaning amidst the turbulence, check those who have finished this life—your ancestors. It happens every Wednesday at Laguna’s Susi Q Center. The Ancestry Club, better known as the “A Club,” was started to help Lagunans discover their family story. Family history—vastly enabled by the Internet—is the world’s fastest growing hobby. (Don’t miss the free offer of your own family history below.)

Warning: For the curious, family history can be addictive. But it might be one of the most fulfilling things you’ve done, full of aha moments. It can deepen your connection to the human family, and add a sense of place. Family history can aid in understanding a medical issue, give insight to a fate intertwined with your ancestor’s dreams, or inspire travel to ancestral homelands.

My favorite family history trip was to Belper in England’s Derwent Valley, the long ago home of my first known Hellewell ancestors. The Derwent Valley, where water-powered textile mills gave birth to the Industrial Revolution, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We stayed in a historic cottage, walked Roman-built roads, and toured the old mill, now a museum, where those Hellewells labored. It was a bonding experience. Belper is a lovely village, but walking in the footsteps of ancestors gave real meaning.

The recent Academy Awards had a family history story. The Pixar animated movie “Coco,” winner of two Oscars, uses the Dias de Muertos holiday as a plot background. The star, 12-year-old Miguel, inadvertently wanders into the land of the dead. Here he has joyful encounters with deceased ancestors following his life. A great-great-grandfather helps Miguel solve a family mystery and then guides him back to his living family. From the experience, Miguel gains new understanding of himself and a sense of belonging.

This is what family history offers to everyone—the means to move between the worlds of the living and dead. Anyone can do this at the A Club in Laguna’s Suzi Q Center. The class, open to all, started three-and-a-half years ago and is still running. Genealogy expert Beth Sand facilitates the group. Filling in one’s pedigree chart offers the fun of solving mysteries, but it’s also a treasure hunt to find your place on the tree of life.

Lesley Kettley describes her A Club experience: “I felt like ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ peeking through the looking glass. Discovering my ancestors has been a fascinating journey. There have been a few brick walls along the way that Beth has helped me unravel. I have a feeling that I will be searching for a long time and loving every minute of it.” Kettley took the additional step of having her DNA tested, learning that besides her UK roots she was also 30% Scandinavian. (Might have been those ancient Vikings and Norsemen terrorizing Britain’s coastal villages.)Nancy Grant, who lost the mementos of her past in the 1993 firestorm, has been able to reclaim some of it plus records and photographs of relatives she hadn’t known. “I am in awe of what my forebears endured, and my life is richer for having ‘met’ these people.” Valerie Thorn researched a grandmother she never knew. “Learning my family tree stories led to an East coast road trip with my sisters. I love telling the stories to my grandchildren, and they share them in their history classes.”Win a free family history: Submit your name for a drawing to [email protected], or double your odds by writing a comment to this column. To do it yourself, come to the A Club from 3-5 on Wednesdays at the Susi Q. That’s free too.


Skip is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” A student of local history, he and wife Clare dote on their many grandchildren. Email: [email protected]



Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.





Share this:
Firebrand Media LLC wants comments that advance the discussion, and we need your help to accomplish this mission. Debate and disagreement are welcomed on our platforms but do it with respect. We won't censor comments we disagree with. Viewpoints from across the political spectrum are welcome here. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, our community is not obliged to host all comments shared on its website or social media pages, including:
  • Hate speech that is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic slurs, or calls for violence against a particular type of person.
  • Obscenity and excessive cursing.
  • Libelous language, whether or not the writer knows what they're saying is false.
We require users to provide their true full name, including first and last names, as a condition for comments. We reserve the right to change this policy based on future developments.

Scroll down to comment on this post.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here