NARRATIVE INHERITANCE: THE FACTS AND FICTIONS THAT SHAPE OUR LIVES
Comport, Caroline J.
O'Brien, William J.
NARRATIVE INHERITANCE:THE FACTS AND FICTIONS THAT SHAPE OUR LIVESCaroline Jennifer Comport, B.A.Mentor: William J. O'Brien, Ph.D.ABSTRACTThe purpose of this thesis is to explore the powerful impulse that drives people of all backgrounds to research their family of origin. In addition to understanding the motivating forces behind genealogical pursuits, this thesis will attempt to answer the following questions:How does who we think we are impact who we become?How is our life story shaped by the stories we believe about our family of origin?How do myth, reality, perception, and meaning influence the way we consciously and unconsciously frame and enact our life story?Does understanding our past give meaning to our present?This research endeavor employs a phenomenological approach to analyze data for meaning and themes. To mine and study this data, the author intentionally embarks on her own genealogical quest and describes the journey from a first-person point of view.The author uses the Comport family as a case study--drawing extensively on the life events of her paternal grandfather, Lionel Frederick Comport. The author chronicles the family's transformation from 19th century English farmers to 20th century film pioneers. While tracing the Comport journey from Hoo to Hollywood, the author discovers she is a direct descendent of the family whose tragic fate is believed to have inspired the opening scene of the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.This thesis uses a qualitative approach to explore and understand the cultural phenomenon of genealogy. It also probes the intersection of genealogy, mythology, and psychology. The author's research methods involve scouring everything from 18th century parish records to modern day online resources such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, as well as observing the popular NBC television series Who Do You Think You Are?Moving across cultures and centuries, the author discovers that creating a story in which to frame our past, present, and future is part of what it means to be human. And yet these stories that inform so many aspects of our existence are very likely to contain elements of fact and fiction. The desire to understand where we came from and ultimately where we are going is a universal longing--one that drives us to attempt to understand both our temporal and eternal points of origin. The implication of these findings: narrative inheritance is a powerful force that shapes our lives and impacts how we engage the world around us.
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