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01-Apr-2002
April Newsletter


      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor


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ELUSIVE ANCESTORS - by Carol Sanderson

About a week ago there was a topic on the bulletin board in which some of us said that we wished our elusive ancestors would find us. There was also a story posted about one of our members "having help" in finding the gravestone for a person for whom she was doing a favor.

I asked about people believing that their ancestors wanted to be found. Some did and some didn't. This whole thread made me think of a couple of books I have by Henry Z Jones Jr., Psychic Roots and its sequel, More Psychic Roots Further Adventures in Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy. The latter I had on my bookshelf and the other remains packed away in a box somewhere. I reread the book I had and this article started to come together.

In his first book, as in this one, Mr. Jones asks many of his genealogist friends if they would submit stories about the serendipitous events that have occurred to them while searching for ancestors. Their stories are amazing and interesting.

Jane Fletcher Fiske, F.A.S.G. says in her Foreword to More Psychic Roots Further Adventures in Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy ...our ancestors tended to face their mortality pretty squarely. Modern medicine changed that situation; the past few generations have lived not only in fear of but in denial of death, either terrified of its being total annihilation of consciousness, or afraid if being considered naive if addmittig to a belief that there was another side.1

Jane goes on to say that new ideas and items are appearing at a steady and rapid rate. Each of us can make his or her own decision to go hide, one way or another, or participate. 2

Jane continues, Hank's work suggests that our dead ancestors are trying to participate too! I don't doubt that some of them are, but I think that what is really happening here is more profound. It suggests that there is a world - worlds - of reality beyond what we know, and that there are consciousnesses out there that actually keep tabs on us, offering help, guidance, or playful nudges to remind us to look beyond, expand our awareness, realize more of our own potential, become more than we are. 3

With that as an introduction, I would like to think that our ancestors are trying to help us find them. We néed to be open to them as people not just names that we have found. The more we think of them that way and try to learn about them the more we are apt to have an experience of serendipity. Things start to happen. Of course, our ancestors cannot do it alone so we shouldn't sit back waiting.

Shortly after my husband and I were married, a great aunt told me that we were related and that the family name was that of my grandmother's maiden name. My husband's great grandmother's maiden name was the same as that of my grandmother. We thought we had it made. No way. We asked his father what he knew about his grandmother. All we got was, "She is buried in the cemetery up the road". We checked out the gravestone and learned nothing more than we already knew. Life has a way if pushing things to back burners and that is what happened in our search. Every once in a while I would think about it and try some other way always with no success. I received a genealogy of that family name. I could find my Dad's data in it but never anything that would connect to my husband's great grandmother.

More years went by and there were deaths in the family. On one occasion we were gathered to go through family things so that the estate could be settled. A nephew showed all of us a photograph album and asked if everyone had seen it. I had not, and there seemed to be clues in it. Then I realized the handwritten captions for the pictures looked like that of his aunt. I asked other family members and they said that yes it was Abbie's. The other business taken care of we went our respective ways. My husband had charge of settling the estate so the photograph album went home with us. I would pour over it trying to find the correct Abigail. Yes, we did know her name. Nothing fell into place as there were too many Abigail's in that time frame in the genealogy.

During that year we found that we were going to move to another town closer to our hometown. I had not only my things to sort through and pack but also those of the estate that had been put in our care until a place could be found for them. One of the things was a wooden crate about three feet by two feet and about three feet high. In it there were letters that my husband's aunt had written to her parents covering most of the twenty-five years she had been in China. I had known this woman when I was a youngster and even then she seemed old or so I thought. In trying to get to know her as a young person going to China as a missionary at age of twenty-two I thought that I would read some random letters. Her mother had numbered them so they could, if desired be put in order. The letters I read showed me a person who was not unlike me or any of my friends at that age. A revelation to be sure.

The days went by and the time came to take the crate with all the letters, pictures and diaries that we had to Yale University where they would be kept with others in Yale's China Day project. I had to have one last look and I reached in to get another letter to read. Wait a minute...this one isn't from Abbie. It is from her mother to her. Look though at the handwriting. It is so close to Abbie's that without the text of the letter I wouldn't have known the difference. WOW!

Back to the photograph album and yes -- using the fact that the captions were written not by Abbie but by her mother. This made a difference in placing some of the people in the right family and thus locating the Abigail I was looking for and therefore finding the correct relationship between my husband and me.

Now, there had to be a guiding hand or I wouldn't have picked that letter out of the three to four hundred in that crate. There have been other incidents and to tell them here, would fill pages. I truly believe that our ancestors do nudge us or point us in the right direction to look for them. However, we have to be open to to receiving their help. Sometimes though, we get hit on the head with their attempts to get our attention.

Hank Jones says near the end of his book that we should not let genealogy absorb us to the point of it being all that we do or think. He qoutes Helen Hinchcliff from her "Foreword" in Psychic Roots: Feeling about one's ancestors, as well as thinking about them usually results in a more successful search. 4

Hank continues:She is so right, our ancestors were not just names and dates. They were people who cared and dared, laughed and cried - like us! We can have great success as family historians if we try and walk in our ancestor's shoes. If we can figure out what made them tick - imerse ourselves in their communities and time-frames - they will reveal themselves to us. I really believe that our ancestors want to be found! 5

I find myself believing much as Hank does. I recommend any of his books as good reading.
Quotes from Hank Jones' books, were used with the express permission of Mr. Jones. You may also wish to visit Mr. Jones' website (click here).
- Carol Sanderson


Foot Notes
  1. Foreword, More Psychic Roots Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy by Henry Z Jones, Jr., copyright 1997, published by Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 1001 N, Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202, p. x.
  2. Ibid..
  3. Ibid..
  4. More Psychic Roots Further Adventures in Serendiptiy & Intuition in Genealogy, by Henry Z Jones, Jr., copyright 1997, published by Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 1001 Calvert St, Baltimore MD 21202, Chapter 16 "Grass Roots Wisdom", p.222
  5. Ibid..



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