It sat there like the apparition of a chad from some long-ago election. I stared at the blank lines somehow expecting immediate changes to the record of his life, changes I’d reckoned should be there. There were none. What the heck? Couldn’t they see that all the information they had about Frank was wrong?
I had reached out to them the moment I first saw mention of Cousin Frank: Hey, Frank didn’t die in ‘29. He’d lived, disappearing into a simple and solitary life. Further, he’d somehow put into motion posthumous wishes to be buried under the name of Tom nearly fifty years later. Yep, old Frank; he’d simply ghosted them all. Then at this, at my notion to reach out and tell the family about Frank, his descendants simply did the same thing. They ghosted me.
Perhaps I just expect too much. Honestly, I’m unsure why I was ever excited to discover the mysteries of Cousin Frank in the first place, but I had been. Nobody else seemed to care – and certainly not Frank. In truth, I should have anticipated that I might get “ghosted.” No doubt Frank’s kin had been told tales of a ne’er-do-well grandfather who hadn’t paid his bills and perhaps abandoned his family. Maybe they wanted Frank to be forgotten for good? It was hard for me to say. I’m certainly no champion of ne’er-do-well dads. However, genealogically speaking, I hadn’t made this journey to pass judgment on Frank. I only wanted to get the truth out that Frank had lived for nearly fifty years longer than they’d thought he had. I waited several days before venturing back to the message boards to ask, “Forgive the intrusion, but what do you make of these discoveries about Frank?” There were only crickets.
Several weeks later, a succinct reply in Mission Impossible style was transmitted: We are still in the process of researching thus far… Can you hear those chirps?
It wasn’t like I’d never been ghosted before, that is, genealogically speaking. I think the worst case was back in ‘18, when Chris Child had vetted my dear old bio great-granddad (one “Mr. Jones”) out of a Christmas DNA test for Dad. Elated, I had jumped at the chance to communicate with these new “all-of-a-sudden” half-relatives of mine. I messaged, emailed, and wrote: Hey, it’s me! I’m your long-lost half first cousin once removed from our great-grandfather’s illicit affair! Let’s chat and compare notes! Do you guys want to barbecue?
Yet there was no reply; not even a disappointing “return to sender.” There was no great Cosmic Bang or karmic reckoning, or any other Kumbaya moments to be had. No, there was only the kindness of a far more distantly-related Jones cousin to ease the humiliation of my exuberance, send a picture or two, and yes, plenty of (you guessed it), crickets. I had been genealogically ghosted six ways to Sunday.
It isn’t like I haven’t done my own fair share of genealogical ghosting. Once I received a very official-like (and highly unpunctuated) two-page email from a “Queenly Lady’’ who listed what appeared to be every known relative of hers in BOLD CAPS in several long lines of indistinguishable succession. The email read more like a proclamation and was filled with names I had no clue about. The Queenly Lady enthused that all she wished to do was “add her names” to my family tree and to link all of “our names” together before she passed away. Would I be so kind as to do that for her? What can you say about such a tragic and noble endeavor? One problem: I had utterly no idea who she was or who any of those two pages of names were. Even in a good game of genealogical Clue, you start out with … “a clue.” Apparently, she was contacting me for a game of genealogical Scrabble instead.
I replied to her, yes, I’d be happy to try and connect the dots between this plethora of names in BOLD and “us” – but, please, ma’am: May I have a single clue as to how we might be related or at the very least connected?? Somehow indignant that I should be asking what was apparently a very foolish question, she replied: Well, we are a DNA match at the level of eighth cousins! Case closed. Figure it out, Jeff. Apparently, that was all I should have needed to know about her and all her names in BOLD. At this point, I very quietly and quickly excused myself from the message boards, leaving crickets style. Sorry, your highness, I’m gonna have “to ghost” all your BOLD selves. I know, shame on me.
Then there was the genealogical message that we’ve all had. You know the one. It’s that sincerest cry of: Please help me with this brick wall in my family tree! Okay, I know that none of us here is so hard-hearted genealogically speaking as to ignore it. Aside from the proverbial reply of no record found, it can be one of the most ‘desperate’ messages to receive. I mean, who among us hasn’t sent the same? Who among us truly hasn’t needed help in solving our genealogical puzzles?
Please help me with this brick wall in my family tree!
Um … nobody here. However, this time the message came front-loaded with explanations of current family situations and dysfunctions; the type ready set for the therapist’s couch. The messages were filled with age-old stories of abandonment, prostitution, and cognitive impairments, with most pertaining to the person sending the message and not the names or families to be researched. Yeah, no … those of you who know me know that I’m in no position to be giving advice about pretty much anything, least of all to strangers. All I could do was try and redirect the subject back to the genealogy at hand and stutter: Hey! How about that 1950 census?! What I received in return from “Ms. Dysfunctional” was the airy confusion of: What are you talking about? Uh-oh. Time for crickets. Time to “ghost out.”
Okay, okay, by now you’re thinking I’m fairly awful and a really poor communicator or worse. Maybe I was too insistent about connecting with the presumed ne’er-do-well Cousin Frank’s kin, or as I like to call it, The story of why Tom is in Frank’s grave, Chapter one. No doubt I’ve also been way too pushy about communicating with my bio great-grandpa’s Jones family and trying to get them to all go out for Kansas City barbecue with the rest of us. Heck, maybe I even deserve to be treated with crickets and ghosted here, too. I know that you’re all probably thinking that, heck, he is an “eighth cousin four times removed” to the Queenly Lady in BOLD so why couldn’t he just cut her some slack and copy and paste a name or two onto the old family tree and call it done? (Ewww… We don’t do that!) I know you may be thinking that I should have tried harder to redirect “Ms. Dysfunctional” back to the subject of the 1950 census, which we know will have absolutely all the answers to everything – at least until 1960 – but I couldn’t do it! For you see, in terms of genealogical ghosting, it’s sort of a matter of what goes around comes around.
The only thing I can say is that the proof is in the pudding, or in this case perhaps the ectoplasm. While I find the act of “ghosting” disheartening, I’ve learned that at least (genealogically speaking) I need to be prepared to be disappointed. Some might even call the act of ghosting a nuance in doing research in family history. While I think we all need to be ethically mindful of who we may choose to “ghost” along our research paths (or any other for that matter), I’d like to leave you with a couple of headstones (how very genealogical of me!) to sum it all up. I’d like to introduce to you my dearly departed Uncle George.
You see, Old Uncle George was a lot like Cousin Frank above. And while Uncle George might not have had much in common with the Queenly Lady, he surely had much in common with Ms. Dysfunctional. True enough, too, is that Uncle George was a hot mess much like my bio Great-Grandpa Jones in that George managed to “ghost” his wife and kids and move to the faraway city of Sacramento, ultimately being buried under his “new” name.
We genealogical types don’t do well with sweeping things under the rug, so his daughters (my aunts who helped “teach me the trade”) took care of that. Once they “dug him up,” so to speak, they simply reissued him an additional headstone to let the world know the truth about their dad Uncle George. I guess he couldn’t hide in the ectoplasm. There’ll be no crickets in that cemetery for sure.
In any event, the moral of the story is that manners are important in researching any family tree. However, if you truly know what’s good for you, well, then, you’d do well to mind your ghosts.
 Frank Chester Woods Anderson aka “Thomas Chester Anderson” (1886-1967).
 As taken from dictionary.com: Ghosted: noun, informal. “The practice of suddenly ending all contact with a person without explanation; also [in some circles] called the French or Irish goodbye…”