Releasing Family Ties Part 1: We Walked Across Europe Too

November 30, 2016


I have been researching my family tree for almost a decade now, and one of the things I was drawn to most when I started were the stories. The stories which lay behind each name in my tree. I wasn’t so interested in birth dates and death dates, or even the numbers of children they had, which is often the information genealogists are interested in. I was interested in what made these people in my family line make the decisions they made about where to live, and what to do for a living? It was what was going on in England, and in the world which influenced their lives, and in many cases their deaths. What was their life like at that time? What choices did they have? and what choices didn’t they have?

Over recent years, since my shamanic training I have combined these stories with my own inner healing work, and since the Spring I have been drawn to taking this one step further.

An increasing number of people have been coming to me for one-to-one sessions for ancestral work, and it’s powerful stuff, so I wanted another go with my teacher to build on the work that we had done during my training.

So, over this Samhain I booked in for three one-to-one sessions with Jayne Johnson. I didn’t mean for it to be over Samhain, it just fell this way, but was just perfect timing for this kind of work. After all Samhain is the time of the ancestors.

This was my next big step in my own shamanic healing, and I had no idea where it was going to take me.

Un-conditioning the Mind

Recently I have been playing with the idea of ‘unconditioning our minds’. Stripping away the layers which are coated on us from the point at which we are born free into the world. As I have been deepening into my ancestral work I saw that a heavy layer of conditioning was applied to my family in the industrial revolution.

During the industrial revolution England was the workhouse of the World.

And it was my ancestors who paid with their time to work in this workhouse of the World.

Since then we have had millions of people go on the streets fighting for workers rights, and so now we have a tolerable working week.

But we are still paying with our time. The working week is a relatively new construct in the history of humanity.

So a big part of ‘un-conditioning the mind’ is to re-evaluate our work. Re-evaulate the hours we work, what we choose to do as our work, and how we approach the work that we do.

Now I have been really fighting this. I was brought up with the belief that work is everything. You work hard and then everything will be OK.

Only in my corporate years, I tried this and it was not OK. So that broke that myth.

It’s been hard though to break the pattern. There have been layers and layers of conditioning to undo, and this piece of ancestral work was the next step for me.


Whilst creating my family tree, it didn’t take me long to notice a pattern. Whichever family line I went down, I saw displaced people with no choice but to work in extraordinarily hard conditions in order to survive. I am fascinated by social history too, to I teamed up both areas of research.

The really big changes for my ancestors happened following the enclosure act of 1801. Up until then they had land to farm. With the Enclosure Act 1801 land that generations of our family had been farming was fenced off, and my ancestors no longer had access to it.

No land, no food. So they moved to the cities to find work.

When we see the plight of refugees it triggers something in me.

I have refugee blood running through my veins. French ancestry from the time of the French Revolution. Irish ancestry from the time of the Potato Famine. My great great great grandparents travelled from France and Ireland to a new country to escape death.

Closer to home, my ancestors in Yorkshire left their rural villages and moved into Leeds to escape death. They were not refugees in the sense that we understand the word, as they only moved within the borders of England. But they were refugees non-the-less.


Walking across Europe too

When I was on my Vision Quest last spring, one of the images I was given was of men, looking tired and dirty, wearing dark tatty clothes. I heard the words, “we walked across Europe too”. It was the one message I had been given on that Quest which I didn’t understand.

Later in the summer I had a conversation with someone who was telling me about his father leaving Auschwitz and traveling across Europe. As we were talking he said the phrase ‘we walked across Europe too’. I froze. It was that line again. I knew it was significant but I didn’t know why. I couldn’t at the time see the link between me and refugees.

Then I did my ancestor work, and by the third session it had come through really strong.

My ancestors walked across Europe in order to stay alive.

They came to a new country to settle in order to stay alive. They had to leave everything, and they never went back to their homes. If they hadn’t have done, they would have died, and I wouldn’t exist.

My ancestors moved from their homes in rural England to the cities in order to survive. If they hadn’t have done they would have died, and I wouldn’t exist.

That choice, that journey they made. The life they found when they arrived in Victorian London or Leeds. That choice which led them to working in factories, in service, working up to 16 hours a day 6 days a week. If they hadn’t have done, I wouldn’t exist.


Every day they would have had the real threat of losing their job. They would have struggled to get a job. The fear of being branded a trouble maker and getting blacklisted from other work. The fear of getting sick and not being able to work. The fear of not having enough money to support their family and ending up in the workhouse. And some of my ancestors did live in the workhouse. They grew up there. Some died there. Alone.

So this is one of the things which has been passed down my family line. The impact of being a refugee, and the resulting beliefs around work.

This is what I have been trying to undo, in order to re-find my freedom. To re-find the freedom in my family line which was there before the industrial revolution. Before the 1800’s. Over 200 years ago.

To un-condition my mind. To get my life back. And in the process heal my family line.

So I will leave it there for today, but I would love to share some of my ancestors stories with you in future blogs. After all, witnessing their story is part of the healing process. How much better do you feel when you have spoke to someone and shared your story? Shared your woes?

It’s powerful work, and something I would dearly love to share over the coming months.

I will close on a quote I read in a local food co-operative in Bolton recently which really struck a cord:

“A time there was, ere Englands griefs began,
When every rod of ground maintained its man;
For him light labour spread her wholesome store,
Just gave what life required, but gave no more:
His best companions, innocence and health;
And his best riches, ignorance of wealth.”

From The Deserted Village, by Oliver Goldsmith, 1770.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in the Arnside and Silverdale Area of Natural Beauty in north Lancashire, England.

Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. Thank you Niccola – yes there is so much healing in sharing our stories. The timeline work is powerful stuff – I hadn’t thought about ancestral work being an extension of our own timeline, our own story. I love this idea 🙂 xx

  2. Hi Nicola, this is how far I am behind with everything . I only just read this and really enjoyed it. After completing my timeline I can understand how much better you feel being able to share your story. Even sharing it with the paper is therapeutic and a little like peeling the layers off an onion. The more you unravel the more you remember. Thankyou for all your insights xxx

  3. Thank you for sharing this moving piece. I’ve heard you speak about your vision quest, then meeting the man who said “we walked across Europe too” and every time it makes me shiver – one of those shivers of beyond coincidence/truth. Your thoughts on unconditioning our minds from our industrial heritage and on the fates of displaced people/refugees are powerful too. My own work with family ancestors is only really just beginning…

    1. Thank you Lorna, yes to hear those words repeated back tome like that was incredible. I am really excited about your journey into finding out about your ancestors. I know every year I deepen into it more it blows me away!

  4. Hi Nicola what an enjoyable piece of writing, I remember from one of those ancestry printouts some years ago that also gave you your family coat of arms, mine was a portcullis gate with a chevron under it which meant Strong in Chivalry, It also mentioned that my great grandfather going back several decades actually wrote the French \national anthem and I also have links to Ireland, reading your Blog has sparked an interest in me to find out more, but not until my two courses are completed.
    Thanks for re sparking this memory.

    1. What great things you have found out already Ron, and I am so pleased my blog as produced a spark for you. The ancestors are lined up waiting patiently for when you are ready 🙂

  5. A well written account of what many faced in the past. People being moved away from rural lives and connections to nature. People losing connections to family and friends in those rural communities. Harnessed to industrialisation and forced to live unhealthy lives to make profit for the elite of the time. Things are more comfortable now but that exploitation of the many by the few has followed over the generations. Great personal work that resonates with us all.Thanks

    1. Thanks Paul, it has really helped sum things up you reflecting back like this. This is precisely how I have observed what has happened through my research and journey work. There is much to undo!

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