Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ask Your Family Their Stories

Grandma Ruth in red & Great-Grandma Hattie in blue.
Many of us are getting ready to spend time with our families for whatever holidays we celebrate. This is a perfect opportunity to ask your elders questions about their childhoods, their parents, their grandparents, or any family stories they remember hearing. 

Where were they born? What was their first job? What was their favorite childhood book? Where is their favorite place in nature? Did they have a signature food dish? Known hobbies?

Who were their heroes? Did they travel? How much school did they do? What did they dream of being when they were kids? 

What do you want to know?

Even better, make a list of the questions you have, slap a fancy holiday image at the top and hand them out to your family. Take videos of them answering some of the questions. Make it communal.

Doing my genealogy as an adult and getting more context for names I heard bandied about as a kid, I realize all the moments I didn't pay attention to. I mean, we all do that. Kids aren't supposed to pay attention to that stuff. And they're not going to pay attention to boring grown-up talk unless we lend sacred weight to; there are ways to ritualize storytelling.

I'm trying to learn that.

I never met my paternal grandma Ruth Emma Ruston. She died at 42 of cervical cancer. (That's a year younger than I am now.) She’s the woman in the photo, in the red dress, at a family function shortly before she went back to the hospital for more treatment. When my dad showed me this picture, he got choked up. I’d never seen it before.

He doesn't remember that day. He was only five. But he'd been told a story that he shared with me.

When Ruth was 42 she had four children. The oldest was 19 and my dad was the youngest. He said that Grandma Ruth went to an afternoon function in that dress because it was her favorite. She knew she wasn't coming back from the hospital and that red dress was her favorite. And I fucking love that.

My dad asked his older brother, an adult when she died, if he had any special recollections about her. We didn't expect him to sit down and write down as much as he could recall. I cried reading through it. If my father had never asked, I wouldn’t know.

I feel like I know her better now. She was clever and inventive and creative about finding ways to run her household that positively affected her community. She loved her family fiercely for as long as she could.

Think about what you want to know and ask your questions this holiday. You won’t always get answers but you might just learn more than you expected. You might learn a small detail that helps you unlock another level of your genealogy work, but you’ll definitely make more family memories in the sharing.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Working for the Kenan Family

433 Locust Street. Photos from Art family archives.
There is a place in my home town called the Kenan Center. In my childhood it was where craft shows and indoor hockey and graduations were held. The land it sits on was offered to the First Prebyterian Church by William Rand Kenan, Jr, a wealthy philanthropist in town. The original house still sits on the grounds, which Kenan owned from 1912-1965. I took pictures before my senior prom inside it and in it's gardens. 

The house was originally known as "The Hill."

In doing my genealogy I discovered that my 2x great-grandparents George Art & Katherine Pils Art worked for Mr. and Mrs. Kenan. My grandmother was a housekeeper and then cook and my grandfather was a chauffeur and then gardener. For a look at the interior and exterior of the house, which has been beautifully maintained, follow this link. 

Kenan wrote extensive memoirs in which he says, "I converted two closets between the two front bedrooms into a grand bath and put in a bath for the servants, also running water in two servant's rooms and modernized all the bathrooms." I liked discovering he thought about the servants' comforts. 

On the website for the House, Natalie Pitzer writes about Kenan, "Educated at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, he participated in the discovery of calcium carbide which is the basis for the manufacture of acetylene. Upon graduation from the university, he came to Niagara Falls to build and help operate a calcium carbide plant for the Carbide M manufacturing Company, later known as Union Carbide." His brother-in-law Henry Flagler was the partner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil Company. Flagler and Kenan developed railroad enterprises in Florida.

Pitzer also writes, "At the time of his death, [Kenan] was chairman of the Flagler system, which still operates hotels, resorts, land companies and the P & O Steamship lines. Locally, he was the owner and board chairman of the Western Block Company. At the age of 85, he was described as the only millionaire to go to work at 7:00 a.m. (Reputedly, this was a little hard on the help because they were expected to be there as well.)"

He was very generous to my hometown and left a legacy of philanthropy in large and small ways. I like to imagine he was a good man to work for. But enough about him. Let's see what he said about my ancestors! Because he wrote about them in his memoirs. And thanks to the interwebs I was able to read through them on-line. What a treasure!

From the memoir Incidents along the Way: More recollections Vol 3 by William Rand Kenan, Jr. (1872-1965).

In the section titled Chauffeurs Who Have Been Employed By Me, Kenan writes,“After my marriage in April 1904 I found it necessary on some occasions that I have a chauffeur to take Mrs. Kenan and at that time I secured the services of George Art. He was coachman for Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Ashley, who had fine horses, and he wished to get some experience in operating a motor car. The Ashleys were our next-door neighbors and friends of both of us. At that time I had a Peerless touring car of 1904 model.”

This explained to me why there was a photo of the house of the lawyer E. M. Ashley in the Art photo album. According to my notes George was a chauffeur with the family until 1908 when he became a gardener. At some point before his death he became and remained Head Groundskeeper.

In the section My Experience with Gardeners, Kenan writes, “George Art followed Thomas Garret. While not a trained gardener, his work was most satisfactory. His wife was our cook and both lived in the house. Art died on the place during 1937 and his wife continued with us as cook until she had to give up on account of her health and died during the Spring of 1941.”

There is a story about how attached George was to the Kenan dogs he cared for that they keened loudly in the yard outside the Arts' lodgings while he died. True or not it tells me there was a close relationship between my great-great-grandparents and their employers. 

The Arts took a lot of photos. Someone captioned half of them cheekily and the humor of the family is evident in what pictures remain- though I saved those photos for another time. It is an absolute joy to have a sense of them as a family unit. These are photos they took around the Kenan House. It is an honor to share their lives with all of you.

A horse and buggy in the back of the Kenan estate.

A carriage in front of the house. When I was little there was an old hitching post on the street along my walk to school.

Working as a chauffeur for the Kenans. Notice the man holding the cat?

George and one of the Kenan dogs.

Writing on the photo said Ginny Kenan (unknown) & Katherine (Pils) Art.

Labelled Connie Kenan. (Which may have been the dog's name.) 

Staff names are Alvina and Corine or Connie.


These resemble candy striper uniforms to me. Possible staff nurses?

George Art. This photo was captioned Boss Man.

The kitchen staff (?). Katherine is second in from the right.

Katherine on the right.

Kenan grounds in winter.

George and Katherine Art in the 1930s.

My 1x great-grandfather Robert Art,my grandmother Patricia Art, and Katherine Art, my 2x great-grandmother.

The only photo not from the Art Archives. This is one of Polster's photos of old Lockport, showing the house by an entrance to the Kenan Center grounds.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Adoption & Ancestors

The question I get asked about the most, especially during the holiday season when everyone is looking for ancestral names, is about how to connect with your ancestors when you are adopted. Or if you even can.

The simple answer is, of course you can.

The Ancestral energy stream we connect to is not made of names. There just happen to be names attached to those threads of energy that create the stream.

You are the product of a thousand loves. Their blood lives within you. Your ancestors walk with you now whether you know their names or cultures or not. Now, you can take a DNA test and get some cultural info on your background. And, if you agree to be connected with other possible family members-- it's an option when you register-- then you could potentially open a door to finding biological family.

If you want to.

It is not a requirement for ancestor work. All you have to do is create a small ancestor altar. All you need is a cup of water and a candle. Tend both regularly. Open yourself to the ancestors in your blood and the ancestors in your family while you do it.

Stay open to thoughts and impression that come to you while you do this. 

The reality is, if you were adopted, not only do you have a gallery of ancestors unknown to you, but you also have a gallery of ancestors you have been chosen into available to you. I know not everyone's adoptions work out well. I know there can be jealousy and hurt feelings if there are secrets and mistrusts or abuse. I've seen that reality among my friends. But I am a realistic idealist.

I see the world for what it is but I find hope in painting it as I believe it could be. And, if you go back far enough we all have the same ancestors. So please, let my ancestors me your ancestors until you find your guides.

Here is my truth.

I don't have kids of my own. I never planned to. But if someday I am lucky enough to adopt a wayward teen and they want to become my child, I will create a ritual and I will call my ancestors in and I will stand with them as we welcome that child into our bloodline. And then I will bore them with the names and stories of their new ancestors, their new energy source, their new guardians. And even if something happened and we never spoke again, I would never sever that bond. I would not have the right. I would not take that gift away from them.

I know too well what a source of strength and comfort they are for me.

Not everyone will agree with me or feel the same. I'm sure as someone who is not adopted or has not adopted I am missing some emotional component. I'm not trying to speak with authority. But I aim to empower you to find what works for you and own it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Meet My Ancestors

Tonight is Samhain. It is All Hallows Eve. It is a night where the walls between this world and the next are thin. This is the night where the dead bleed through and if you wish to connect with them, you can listen to them, you can sense when they're present, and you can entice them to come. You can also make simple offerings to honor their place and presence in your life.

Because They Were...You Are.

I pour water in the glass cup on my Ancestor Altar. I light a candle in the fossil candle holder. It is the lighthouse guiding their way to me. I light more candles for specific prayers. I take in a breath and as I exhale I open my heart. I open myself to spirit world. I am not the lighthouse.

I am the light.  

I open to my Grandparents:  
Richard James Riddle & Donna MacDonald, my beloved dead
Mark Dutcher Eaton, my beloved dead, & Ruth Emma Ruston
Patricia Ann Art

I open to my Great-Grandparents:
Harold Riddle & Elsie Elizabeth Durant, my beloved dead

Robert Joseph Art & Margaret Loretta Burke
Frank William Ruston & Minnie Estelle Wicker
Royal Levant Eaton & Hattie Eva Smith

I open to my Great-Great-Grandparents:
Frances & Lafayette are in the center, front.
Lafayette Riddle & Frances Ann Gillette

George Frances Durant & Emma Louise Burnah

George Art & Katherine Pils
Frank Burke & Eliza Conners
Ruth & Charles are in the center back.
Charles Evan Ruston & Ruth Ireland [both from England]
Hiram & Emma are the center couple.
Hiram King Wicker & Emma Angeline Whitcher 
Bennett Eaton & Theresa Cordelia Tenney
Silas Parker Smith & Hattie Eva Dutcher

I open to my Great-Great-Great-Grandparents:
Marquise DeLafayette Riddle & Sarah Clickner
Levi & Jane are seated in the second row.
Levi Gillette & Jane Berry
Albert Durant & Rosella LaValley [both from Quebec]
Samuel Burnah [from Quebec] & Mary Fortin
Adam Art & Catherine Blume [both from Germany]
John Pils & Mary Burzee [both from Germany]
Thomas Burke & Ellen
David Conners & Mary Dowd [both from Ireland]
Richard Ruston & Anna Richardson [both from England]
William Ireland & Phoebe Lenton [both from England]
Thaddeus Rice Wicker & Cynthia Lusk
Bailey Harrison Whitcher & Ordelia de Lozier
Solomon Gould Eaton & Hannah Ann Treadwell
Philetus Tenny & Malvina H. Targee
Ammi Smith & Sophia Sears
Reuben Feagles Dutcher & Eliza Marsh Bird
I open to my Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents:

Joshua Eaton & Lucy Gould
Solomon P. Treadwell & Fermicy Peters
Hiram Tenney & Esther Sally Tillotson
Thomas Targee & Eleanor Smith
David Smith & Betsey
Heman Sears & Clarissa Dubois
Martin Dutcher & Cynthia Ann Feagles
Manly Bird & Irene Pond Marsh
Edward Ruston & Jane Brooks
Thomas Richardson & wife
John Ireland & wife
John Lenton & Mary Wilson
Pliny Wicker & Chloe Morgan
Elizur Lusk & Mary A.
Simeon Whitcher & Dorcas Kittredge
Peter de Lozier P.O.W. & Lucy Raymond
Freeborn Moulton Riddle & Abigail Chaffee
Wilhemus C. Clickner & Anna Maria Hayner
Ezra Wheeler Gillette & Mary Ann Boots
Francis Berry & Elizabeth Ann Hill
George Durant & Safrona (from PQ)
Francois Xavier Paquet Lavallee & Rosella LaRoche (from PQ)
George Arth & Wilhemina Wernersbach (both from Germany)
Heinrich Blum & Margaretha Hesse (both from Germany)
John Burke & Ann Scott (from Ireland)
Barney Dowd (from Ireland)

I open to my ancestors, known and unknown. I open the front door. The air is cold and tinged with winter. I invite all who wish us no ill to enter and celebrate the night.

I ask my Ancestors to welcome in the spirits of the Recent Dead, of my beloved college friend Dave Bova. I ask them to watch over our community friends Sue Curewitz Arthen, James Johnson, Lorna Tibbetts, and Janet Rae McKee Banks. And may her family welcome my great-aunt Donna Riddle Mauri back into their embrace.

Leave offerings of food and liquor, of earthly things that smell strong and potent, of tobacco and candies. Leave them fresh, filtered water. Listen to the whisperings of the shadows. Feel peace fill your heart.

Let the candles burn low. Pay attention to your dreamings. The dead have things they wish to say.

Blessed Samhain. Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Preparing the Way for Spirit to Come Through

Autumn has New York State in her grasp, even though my morning glories are still trying to grow new tendrils. We turn towards All Hallow’s Eve and it feels as though winter will not be far behind. Indoors, I make preparations to honor my Ancestral Dead and welcome them into my home and hearth. I do this every day but at this time of year I do it more formally and intently on a night when the lines between the living and the dead blur.

I see movements out of the corner of my eye, things tucking behind chairs and bookshelves that aren’t there when I look for them straight-on. I feel people entering the room behind me but no matter how certain my body is that I am not alone I cannot see anyone with my naked eye. And my scalp prickles as if a hand has gently touched me. It warms beneath another palm. I no longer reach up to check because I know it is not a physical presence.

This is how I live every October. The blurs are what I refer to as wayward spirits, harmless travelers drawn towards memories of being alive. The closer we get to Samhain the brighter my inner lighthouse gets. My room lurker is currently The German Guy who has made another appearance. He belongs to my maternal Grandma Art’s side. And the hand on my scalp is my Great-Grandma Elsie. Always. She is my spirit traffic cop. She is never far.

I leave her cups of tea and horribly salted chicken wings. She lived with us in the summers and was alive until I was seventeen. There is a space in my heart that was shaped by her, a part of me that remembers how she molded me. 

You can’t let the bullies stop you from living your life, she'd tell me.

That goes for spirit bullies, too. Sometimes, if you are sensitive to them, they can crowd the room and demand attention. So when I clean my Ancestor Altar and refresh it for the season I call in peaceful spirits here that do not wish us harm. I take a shot of some pungent liquor and make an offering at the edge of our property for those spirits seeking offerings with no regard for the living.

There is room for them all to be honored…just...out there. Not in my home.

On Samhain we feast a Dumb Supper with our ancestors, setting a place for special guests and one place for all the rest to come and join. Together, the collective of us living and dead will say a final farewell to those who have passed since last year and I will ask the Ancestors to safeguard those who may not yet be at peace and to watch over their families.

Some years the names of my Recent Dead are few. This year, the list is longer than I'd like, and the losses are heavy. A dear friend and community member. Several other community members... oh, my heart. My Great-Aunt. A beloved friend and college companion. The loss of him is still rippling out through our hearts. It will be felt for years.

I wish them peace even as I grieve the loss of them, the loss of their physical presence, of their wisdom, of all the time we’ll never have to repair or strengthen wounds and hearts. And I am left to figure out how to move on from unfinished work.

But not alone. Those Who Have Gone Before aid me in my grief. The Ancestral Dead, the centuries of others who have felt such loss, have been deceased long enough that they can hold space for my sorrow. When I am open to it, in my darkest moment, I do not feel alone.

For some people the thought of ghosts is isolating and frightening. We often feel such a way about things we cannot explain. I’ve always trusted what I am experiencing more than just my eyes. We do not see everything and we do not see everything the same way as everyone else. It makes our personal experiences valuable.

Open your heart to the thinning of the walls between this world and the next. Do not try to quantify or qualify. I will tell you that yes, your loved one is gone. And they are alive. And they are reincarnated. And they are with you. All of that is true, all at once, right now.

Now they are gone. Now they are everywhere.

How will you honor them this year?

(post updated from October 17, 2018)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Grief Poppets for Samhain

Without death, there would be no Ancestors to revere. With death comes grief. Ancestor practitioners spend so much time playing crossing guard and messenger that we need to have a tool box of ways to work through, accept, and integrate grief.

At Samhain, I tell people not to call on those who have not been gone for at least a year. That is partly so we do not hold onto spirits who were ready to move on. But it is largely an act of self-care. We humans need time to process our grief before being able to experience our friends as part of the slipstream of Ancestral Dead.

Some people need less than a year. Some people need more time. There’s no golden rule. It’s natural to fear and struggle with death. Humans cling to our science for answers to give us comfort. Death is perhaps the ultimate mystery for which there can never be any concrete veritas Truth. So we gather our personal truths and experiences with death in an attempt to flesh out the hidden image.

I have a simple but potent magic I use when I have a personal grief that sits heavy in my heart. I make a Grief Poppet.

They are not Voodoo dolls, although I consider Voodoo dolls to be a kind of poppet. Use of poppets in folk healing is old and crosses cultures. When I make a poppet for healing, I make the figure of it similar to the being it is meant for. They’re usually human silhouettes but I have also made cat-shaped dollies.

I always use cotton fabrics, something that can be burned or buried without further harming the Earth. I cut two shapes and put them wrong-side together, hand stitching them. While sewing, I focus my thoughts on happy memories of the one I grieve. I leave an opening in the head so I can fill it, then turn it inside out. This is poppet magic 101, for all poppet workings. Now I have a shell for the magic.

I use flaxseed as the base herb for grief poppets. It adds a weight to the fetish that feels good in my hand. I add lavender and rosemary internally for scent. I recommend investing in lavendin for grief purposes (not to be cooked with). It is a hybrid of two strains that produces more essential oil and has a potently soothing aroma to it. If my grief has sharp edges I add some nettle for protection.

The key piece of magic happens when I add the heart stone. I often use a piece of resin incense, sometimes a lotus seed, sometimes a small bean, or a small chip of a gemstone. The important part is that it is meaningful to the person I am crafting the poppet for.

Then I finish it off with an invisible stitch. I make it small enough to fit into a pocket but large enough to be weight in my palm. I carry it around with me for as long as I need. It is not a cure for grief. Grief is not a thing to be abolished or denied.

The depth of our grief is a reflection of the depth of the love we felt, lived, and lost.

Part of what makes the emotion difficult is the intangible quality of it. The poppet is something I can finger in my pocket. It’s less permanent than needing something to remind me of my lost loved one on a daily basis. It becomes a conduit for that grief. It becomes a container but it does not contain it. It takes in the excess but does not retain it. I use copal for grief poppet heart stones because it is a cleanser and purifier.

The nature of time is to lessen the hurt of grief. I will carry the poppet through my workings this Samhain, and burn or bury it at the next one (if I am ready), sending the remnants of that love back out into the world. Love is something death cannot take away.

Love is something death cannot take away.
When grief ebbs at your heart, feed it love.
Feed the world love that none will be hungry for it.
Honor the dead by caring for the living.
Be a good ancestor now.
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