During the summer months when I'm out of school, I drag out my file boxes, straighten the dog-earred pages of my well-worn Virginia Gazetteer, and turn my attention to genealogy research. In 1990 when I first decided to "write some things down" after the death of one of my uncles (our family's unofficial historian), I had no idea that ten years later I'd be so intense and passionate about unraveling the mysteries of my family's history.
At least a couple of days a week in the summer I'm in a courthouse somewhere, going through old wills and deeds, or in a cemetery, trying to locate the graves of various ancestors. On days when I don't go out, I'm on the computer visiting various websites and gen forums, and going through my notes, trying to figure out who's who, where they came from, where they went, and how they all fit in.
I've jokingly said that while some people collect antique glassware, or Beanie Babies, I collect dead ancestors! It's always exciting when I find one who will complete a "set," and finding the grave of the last member of a particular family line, for example, will make my day.
While it's hard to explain, as soon as I started my research in the summer of 2000, I got the distinct feeling that it was being "supported" by those whom I was trying to find. Sometimes I seemed to intuitively know where to look for key pieces of information, and at other times I got "flashes" in which I'd apparently "know" how certain people met.
I tentatively discussed these impressions with a very distant relative and fellow genealogist, and she made a comment that seemed to resonate with truth: "You never really die as long as you're loved and remembered." As I shared with my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins the things that I was discovering through my research, it seemed that we were giving our ancestors new life through our memories and thoughts about them.
What seemed especially significant to me was that I was essentially "reuniting" families through my research and through my website. Even if they'd been buried at different cemeteries or had otherwise gone their separate ways through the years, I realized that I was creating a "place" where they could all be together again--"Heaven" notwithstanding!
As I thought about all this, I also thought of how close I am to my immediate family. I'd hope that 100-200 years from now, people (perhaps our descendants) will realize that we are/were a "unit," and that they will connect us, too--at least in memory.
While there was obviously no way to know if this was how my ancestors would feel about it--I doubted if they'd send me some cosmic "sign of approval" to let me know!--I sincerely hoped that my efforts were somehow pleasing to them....
Friday, July 21, 2000, was a particularly good and productive day because I'd been able to locate and photograph the graves of another set of great-great grandparents. Finding the graves, and combining that with other information that I knew about them, just made them more and more real to me. I was getting close to completing the "set," because I'd also located the graves of most of their children.
That evening, not wanting to cook, my 16 year old son and I were starting to head into town to get something for dinner. We were about 1/8th of a mile from our house--still in our small-town subdivision--when I suddenly exclaimed, "What the hell?!" at the same time my son said, "What IS that?!"
My first thought was that I was seeing a young ostrich or emu--not very likely in central Virginia! But as we got closer and I stopped the car, we were nose to beak with an enormous 3+ foot tall gray bird who was standing right by the side of the road, looking like a bewildered hitchhiker.
To say that seeing a very large bird in my neighborhood was "unusual" is a major understatement! The only time in my LIFE that I've seen ANY bird of that size was in 1991 when I was at a big lake 50 miles from here and saw a large, all white bird on a far distant shore. NEVER had I seen this type of bird "in person," NEVER had I seen any bird of this size at such close range, and NEVER had I seen one in my neighborhood!
As we sat there, staring at it--and it at us--my son asked, again, what it was.
I said that I thought it was a heron....
As soon as I said that, I started getting chills. Was this bird a "messenger," whose presence was to serve as a "sign of approval" for my genealogy research?
Perhaps, because the graves that I'd found and photographed that morning were--"coincidentally"--those of my Herron ancestors....