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Who looks after you and who do you look after? I’ve been thinking about family trees and who’s around when the poop hits the fan. 

I’m Ellie and I’ve included a picture of me as a child sitting in a toilet for your reference and entertainment. I look a bit different now as the picture was taken at least thirty years ago.





ellie toilet pic for print.png

I’m not sure that the family trees I see in the history books tell us much about care and for me, they don’t really reflect my experience. I think they might not for other people either. They don’t make visible care, abandonment, or trauma. They don’t always make visible the babies that were lost or the friends that stepped up when things get tough.


My family tree is complicated. All of my siblings are adopted apart from me. My brother was Russian, my next brother is Iranian and my sister is from New Zealand. Since the death of our single mother our care networks are complex: with absent fathers (biological and adoptive) falling off the radar, sisters become fathers, carers become the people needing care and friends becoming vital to our survival.

I wonder if your family is a chosen family or the one you were born into?


I have made you a kit to start thinking about your family tree. It might be a chosen family, a given family or a combination of the two. There are no ‘right’ answers, only what feels right to you, right now. You can see an example of my family tree for your curiosity.


Sending love,


Ellie x





A project by Ellie Harrison




Traveling safely in dangerous places

I met a mountaineer who said ‘The Art of adventure is travelling safely in dangerous places’ and it’s a mantra I keep close. It can be emotional talking about family and care. I’ve included some signposting to support services.


Here are some UK helplines to call if you need support.

@samaritanscharity 116 123 (Open 24/7 365)

@mindcharity 0300 123 3393

@anxietyukofficial 0344 775 774

@charitysane 0300 304 7000

@calmzone 0800 58 58 58

@giveusashoutinsta Text SHOUT to 85258 anytime, day or night, to chat with someone about what is worrying you.

Domestic Abuse: 0808 2000 247

*Please note hours for each service will vary. 

Kit Instructions


Your family tree is unique to you, so use the parts of the kit you want to and ignore anything that’s not relevant. It’s up to you how long this activity takes it could take 10 minutes or 3 hours. It could be something you do over a couple of days.


Give yourself some uninterrupted time if you can. You might want to invite someone you feel safe with to do this activity with you or you might want it to be just you.


It’s all allowed.


You don’t have to share anything you don’t feel happy sharing. If bits don’t apply to you, leave them blank. Make it your own.


There are 3 sets of cards

People cards (These are for the significant people in your life)

Connection cards (These are about the connections between people whether positive or negative)

Memory cards (These are for if you want to add significant memories)


First clear a space on the table, tray, or notice board to make your family tree. Mine took over a large space (A3 paper size) but yours doesn’t need to.


Find the ‘Me’ card, fill it in and place it down in the centre.


Fill out the people cards with names and roles of significant people in your life. Don’t worry if there are gaps or you don’t know birth or death dates, just fill in what’s important to you.


Use as few or as many cards as you want; there is no ‘right or wrong way of doing it’.


Add connection cards between people where you want. You don’t need connection cards for any or every connection and only where you feel comfortable.

Add memory cards if you’d like. You could add a couple of memories to the whole thing, one for each person or multiple memories for particular relationships. Number the memory in the top right hand corner and then add that number to the people cards who are involved in the memory. For example several people may be involved in memory number 4 and have that number on the top of their person card.

If you are happy to, document it in some way. You could:

Take a picture and share it with me @griefseries

Scan it

Send the original to me at CLAY 1-2 Regent St, Leeds LS2 7QA


A note on social media

When I used the kit I was surprised by how emotional it was and I had to think for quite a long time before sharing it with you. I asked lots of people on my family tree if they were okay for me to include them.


You might want your family tree to be kept totally private or you might want to show it to other people.


Please think carefully before publishing photos or records of your family tree online or on social media.


Is there anyone on the family tree (or left off it) that might be upset or feel exposed by appearing? Is there anyone you want to check with before you tweet or instagram it? What happens if they ask you not to share it; are you okay with that?

Photo credit: Sophie Okonkwo 

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