Recently, I wrote about the search for my great-great-great-aunt Minnie (Hickok) Wilcox, and the rewards and pitfalls of what I like to call those Delayed Messages from “beyond.” While I was happy to put the mystery of Minnie to rest (and to collaborate with my new almost-a cousin-in-law Tom), the rest of my family didn’t seem all that enthused to learn the tale and final resting place of Aunt Minnie. Heck, even my clan’s most ardent family history aficionados seemed numb to the small cache of findings about Minnie. The only thing I can say here is that I’m hopeful that their nonchalance about Minnie was just in deference to (and disapproval of) her curmudgeon of a husband, Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox. My great-great-great-uncle Billy probably should have been a 1920s-style “poster husband” for spousal abuse. This isn’t to say that I didn’t hear from “da folks” with regard to Tom’s and my discoveries about Minnie (or Billy). Only to say that by and large I heard from those polite branches, and they for the most part, are distant from ye olde trunk. Continue reading Not a gangster in the bunch
“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” … or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life. I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Seal” came into our lives. Ma Seal, for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma
The other day, while rolling about in a school bus through the streets of our fair town, my co-worker – a vociferous and practical-minded young woman we’ll call Cathy – chided me, saying, “Why that’s just impossible! You think you are related to everyone!” Well, I have to admit, I stammered a bit at this, and wasn’t quite sure what to say. Cathy’s no-nonsense attitude made what I wanted to extol, an overly simplified explanation of “We are all possibly related to each other – it’s just a matter of proving how,” feel a bit too dumb in the moment. Continue reading Tethered branches
Okay. Let’s clear something up straight away. Like the rest of us here, I see dead people. The truth is, though, that “my visions” aren’t always very clear, and truer still, is that I don’t exactly see dead people so much as I hear them. (And no, it’s not time for you to call your local mental health professional on this blogger just yet – but do give it time.) I know it may seem like a big genealogical s t r e t c h, but I have to believe you know just what I mean. They, our dearly departed, “come a calling” to leave one with that feeling of a special message – one intended for you alone. It’s almost like some form of spectral evidence meant to guide us in researching the old family tree. Stretch or not, most of the time my own dearly departed are just like this; that is, showing up with their usual hints of hushed and secretive messages. “Messages” that make me sweat it out for the smallest discovery of their lives, relationships, whereabouts, or demise. (Well, they never promised that it would be easy, right?) Continue reading Delayed messages
The skies are orange here today. Words like “contained” and “perimeter,” along with phrases like “mandatory evacuation” and “defensible space,” float through the smoke-laden air. The smoke curls indolently outward, towards the Golden Gate, and flies up against the back of Yosemite’s Half Dome. It accumulates against every horizon, much like the ash that is, well, everywhere, and leaving its not-so-subtle reminder of the destruction. No pictures of that destruction are needed here to tell the fires’ tales… Continue reading Mother Orange
Now that a few of our shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, my wife Nancy and I have started to get back to the more ‘normal’ side of life. I have to admit, it’s been pretty nice not having to treat toilet paper like some new form of currency, and truly heartwarming to only Zoom with the grandkids for fun. Indeed, the pandemic life has reminded me of what’s most precious in life, i.e., family. Interestingly enough though, it’s also played an important part in helping me to find out just who I am – at least in ancestral terms. Yes, ye olde pandemic life has also taught me a thing or two outside of ‘the norm.’ And along with its implied “six degrees of separation,” this period has reminded me about some ancestral ties I scarcely knew I had. Continue reading ‘Ye olde pandemic life’
Not too long ago, my daughter asked me if I would look into the Danish ancestry of a “new friend” of hers – a guy named Charlie. Now Jen’s usually quite secretive about father learning anything at all about her prospective beaux, so I jumped at the chance to take a look at the ancestry of her new fellow – a guy who just might easily show up to our house for Sunday dinner. I knew I had to be a bit careful about it all, too. I wanted to make sure that I researched Charlie’s Nordic connections as respectfully as possible, not only for his sake, but to make sure that my daughter would continue to value my counsel – and not summon one of my mother’s ancient curses against me. (Little did I know that in doing all of this, my hubris and I were about to experience an embarrassing genealogical gaffe…) Continue reading The genealogist McFly
I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I work on family history I get bored. After all, how long can one be expected to stare at the same old brick walls, or to wonder why researching on Rootsweb these days feels more like your worst blind date ever? I guess you could say that this sort of ennui has gotten me into a bit of trouble, as in the absence of anything interesting in my own family tree I start looking for ways to escape the solitary confinement of (what I like to call) my own little “genealogical slammer.” I know it’s a bit dangerous to go on the lam like this but, hey, I think you’ll agree that, genealogically speaking, you truly can meet a lot of interesting people along the way. Continue reading The trouble with Jimmie
A couple of weeks ago, my pandemic life in quarantine led me to watch an episode of television’s The Blacklist. During the program, I heard Mr. Reddington (the program’s protagonist) bemoan the fact that something (in this case, a piece of counterfeit art) was, in his words, “as phony as the Cardiff Giant.” As a native Angeleno, and never having heard of the Cardiff Giant before – and additionally unsure if said giant was from Wales, or indeed from Cardiff-by-the sea, – I wanted to see just who (or what) this giant was, and why the heck Raymond Reddington would compare him to a work of art.
There’s something that happens when researching genealogy and family history. It’s actually a lot like a trip to the House of Mirrors or the “Ye Olde Fun House.” It’s one of those things that occur when you’ve examined someone’s life but find there’s something that you still can’t quite resolve. I mean, it’s not exactly a brick wall – as everything else about the subject’s life in question will look “just fine” – “but.” Really, all the pieces of the puzzle go together perfectly … or do they? It seems that there is always one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit quite right.
So we genealogists dance around the puzzle. For me, I like to use words and phrases like “probably, likely, could-a-been, might-a-been,” and my all time favorite, without a doubt. We might even build a sketch of the person’s life, ever careful not to disturb the tenets of our research, all the while practicing a little bit of the X Files mantra that “the truth is out there.” Continue reading The name’s the same