When you travel down the ancestral highway, the things that cross your path sometimes happen in at the most unusual moments.
I’ve always had a curious relationship with the ancestors on my mother’s side, a sense of longing to know them better, physically touch them. I spent much of my childhood time with my dad’s parents, learning to bake at my grandmother’s side, picking vegetables with my grandfather on their farm.
But my mother’s mom died several months before I was born and my grandfather was a rather gruff guy who died when I was 10, taking with him many family secrets. Most of my thoughts about them were filtered through the memories told by my mother and her sisters.
I’d like to think the creative streak that runs in our family came down through Minnie. Her craft was sewing and she would do it hour after hour. All of us kids had little cats made from material that had the front of the cat on one side and the back on the other. Mom would say those cats would line the window sill, straight as soldiers in a row.
As I’ve done some genealogical research over the past year, bits of Minnie’s life have been filled in as I’ve learned a little more about her parents. (I still can’t figure out when they emigrated to America, though! There’s always more to discover. Trying to find records on people named “Wood” and “Granger” in England in the 1800s is not, I’ve learned, a piece of cake!) My fascination with her has continued to grow. Yet the only physical connection I had to this little woman, apart from countless photos, was a stuffed cat.
That is, until one serendipitous moment. Collecting vintage postcards is a passion of mine. I use some in my art, others remind me of places I’ve been or, in the case of the “up north” cards, of the area where my summer house is and where, a short walk away, my mother and her sisters spent their summers with Minnie. I always looked for photo cards that might show the resort where the cottage stood but those that had included house itself were non-existent, perhaps because it was set back further onto the land and in wide shots, the trees blocked it.
As I was going through the alphabetical city list of cards, I picked up those that included lake views and, as usual, most of the cards didn’t appeal. They were too recent. Or they were area attractions that held little personal meaning. They were not the spots on the lake I longed to find.
That is, until I saw one that had a somewhat familiar look. The writing on the front said “Wah Wah Soo,” which was the area of the cottage and it looked like — just at the very top of the card — a bit of the old cottage was visible. Although I didn’t notice it on first glance, I would later discover that an “X” was drawn at the top of the card, with a line dipping into the trees and pointing to a house set back from the shore. It looked very familiar.
I turned it over, surprised to find it had been addressed to my grandparents’ next door neighbor, the woman who served as my baby sitter until I was three. I looked at the faded handwriting in pencil, the date, “Thu., 1940.”
X marks the spot. We have been quite comfortable up here this summer. It hasn’t been too warm here. We will be seeing you all before very long. Love, Minnie L.”
What magical thing brought me to this show — one I often skip — on this day? What led me to this very spot and what was it that brought my grandmother’s handwriting — the first time I had ever seen her handwriting — into my own hands?
Tears ran down my face and I didn’t care who saw.
I’ve long wondered how one can feel so connected to someone they never met. It’s more than a bloodline. It is more than an interest in crafty things or a love of the cottage. I find it deeper and inexplicable. And yet, it is as tangible as the photograph I can touch.
Are we guided by the spirits who have come before us? Do we hear their voices in our heads when we do something we know they’d love? Does their guidance help us form our thoughts and actions, thought we think those thoughts and actions are ours alone?
We’ll never know but I would like to think that’s so. For it seems that Minnie is one of the guides in my life. And with every bit of research — the name on the census document, the death certificate, the marriage license — she becomes more and more real.
My genealogical journey has just started. In less than a year I have found ancestors who were persecuted and died for their religion, another who died in an asylum. I have found farmers and beekeepers, confectioners and shoemakers. I have learned about women who died young leaving large families behind and children who died all too soon. I have even discovered that a dear friend with whom I’d had no sense of family connection was my fifth cousin. But that’s another story.
It has become a quest, this walk down the ancestral highway. It is a dive down the rabbit hole of family trees with deep roots. It can be dark and frustrating and often confusing with information coming from all directions, some spot on, some far off. And yet, with each computer key I tap, there is a sense of those spirit guides, urging me to tell their stories.
And so, down the rabbit hole we go.
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.
22 Replies to “Spirit Guides on the Ancestral Highway by Jeanie Croope”
I loved this story. As someone who is passionate about my family history, and who has been nudged by mysterious forces that have led me to fabulous discoveries, I can totally relate. Just a word of caution– it can become addictive but the joy it brings is blissful.
You are so right about the addictive nature of tracing your family history! There have been many a 2 a.m. night when I’ve fallen on a new trail and some joyful discoveries! Thanks for such a nice comment.
I love the way you are thinking about this journey, Jeanie. My father-in-law spent a few years researching his family and traveled the country to see places for himself. I believe he found that very rewarding and connecting to the past.
Thanks, Stacey. It’s fascinating to discover these things. I know we are all made up of stories from our past — some real, some apocryphal and we may never know the whole truth of it. But it’s so intriguing to discover the places and bits of the people. They become so much more real. I’m so glad you were able to join your father-in-law in his journey.
Jeanie what a wonderful story! I, too have been researching both sides of my ancestry and yes most is mundane but those nudges, pulls, newspapee references, handwriting on a wartime draft registration, photo, etc. Are like huge shiny gold nuggets that warm my heart! Wishing you more of these experiences on your journey!
Thanks, Therese. It’s a fascinating journey, isn’t it? And when you get those nuggets, celebration is in order! Thanks for coming by.
Your tale brought tears to my eyes, as I look for clues down my own rabbit hole. It is addictive and exciting and frustrating – and I am always left wanting more. I had a long conversation with my aunt last night…the first time in many years that we have connected like this. She is extraordinary, and opened a few research doors for me. But more than that she brings childhood memories flooding back. LOVE that, and her. Enjoy your “travels.”
Sandy, I am so touched by your comment. You are so fortunate to still have that generation with you and able to add to the story — and the photos. What a gift. Thanks so much for coming by.
Fantastic story Jeannie, fact is often stranger than fiction, that’s for sure. Hugs, Valerie
Thanks for visiting, Valerie. Yes, I think there’s a lot out there we don’t understand but it’s still pretty magical or mystical in some way and I love it.
Jeanie, what a warm and evocative post. We were deep into researching our ancestors on Ancestry.com before Christmas. Then the holidays took over, but I plan to get back to it very soon. I know what you mean about the difficulty of finding records on people named “Wood” and “Granger” in England in the 1800s. It is hard to track down a particular Sheffield in England, too. :/
How incredible and fateful that you found your Grandmother’s card. How in the world? You must have been stunned. Wonderful post, Jeanie. Thanks.
Stunned, indeed! The perfect word. The ancestry journey takes you down quite the rabbit hole but if you hang in there long enough you can find some pretty amazing things! Good luck with it!
Jeanie, your story just touched my heart, soul and spirit. I use my “spirit guides” all the time and yes, they make a huge difference in life — at least in mine for sure. I hope to do more family hunting on my mother’s side especially, since her mother was adopted and records are virtually non-existent – challenging for sure.
thank you for your beautiful sharing of your heart and spirit.
blessings from Las Cruces NM
Thank you, Sharon. The family journey is a fascinating one and not always easy to find the information. A friend is dealing with the adoption issue as well and it’s a tough one. Best of luck with your continuing search.
Wow, Jeanie! How serendipitous. Your Minnie was quite beautiful.
Thank you, Sandra! She was a tiny thing but a dear one!
This is so wonderful for you! I love reading your blog and especially this one. I love looking back at old pictures of family and neighborhoods but to find that special card is magical! Can you see a resemblance from your mom or yourself to Minnie?it would be nice to see those pictures.
Hi Sharon, and thanks for the nice words. Both Minnie and my mom were very, very short, so I see that. And the joy and laughter I hear about in Minnie was certainly part of my mom’s life and mine. I think my youngest cousin bears the greatest physical resemblance to Minnie — both facially and in stature. Discovering the photos is a real joy!
I remember you sharing this story before. What an amazing thing to stumble upon. I think the older we get, the more we yearn to know who our ancestors were and what their story was. I love the idea of our ancestral spirits guiding us along the way!
Thanks, Lisa! Yes, I still remain in awe of that experience and of course learning more along the way enriches us!
A wonderful piece and a truly amazing coincidence! Wow!
Thank you, Jenny! It was a happy day!
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