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, June 12, 2019

Taking the DNA Kit

I was excited when I got my DNA test results. Due to my genealogy research there were no big shocks for me but it did verify and validate some of the intuitive leaps I took in assuming who my family members were. 

That’s exciting news, Ancestor Hunters!

The kit itself is straightforward. No drinking or eating for a half hour. Spit in a tube to the line. Package it in the packing they provide. Put it in the mail. Wait for an e-mail. They say 4-6 weeks for results. Mine came in 4 weeks.

These results are the 50% of DNA I received from my mother. I am curious now for my sister to take it because she may have received different maternal genes than me and her percentage make-up may vary. Because women are XX we can only map the X code. We have no Y to trace. If I want to know the paternal DNA, which I do, I have to poke the nearest and closest male relative on that side of the family. That’s my dad. The ideal option would be a brother but dad is second best. The further away you go the more variations that occur between what they got and what I got, so the percentages quickly become guesstimates. But it’s closer than not knowing anything.

Culturally, all of my ancestors are all of my ancestors. I only exist because they each existed. So to layer that with the concept that there is actual genetic code from some of them in my body now... I think that’s cool.

I should also note that men have a choice to do maternal or paternal or both as they have both the X and Y. I'm a bit jealous of that.

When you do the kit you have to activate it on-line first which involves creating an account on I hesitated to do it as I already had an account with my dad but it goes to his e-mail and he doesn’t check it often and I didn’t want to have to wait on him getting them to me- haha! Totally true. So I started a new account so I could get the results as soon as they were ready. And it afforded me the chance to try it out from a fresh perspective.

It’s free to do. And it ended up being better than I expected. When my results came in, they included a list of other people who have been tested and who allowed for their tests to be shared for this purpose. So my results came with a list of second and third and fourth and fifth and sixth cousins... Their messenger feature allowed me to send messages to some of my new-found cousins to see how we related to one another!

Then I was offered the ThruLines option. If I plugged in a family tree I’d be able to see what ancestors all those new cousins and I shared in common. Cool! I figured that this was going to be where they were going to asking me to join a membership. Nope. Making the family tree comes with the free account. It's researching their archives that costs money. 

[It might be worth it to do the family tree and then subscribe to the site for a month and do research on the names you have.]

Even without the ability to search the archives, the tree maker is fantastic and better than any other free ones on the web. is constantly upgrading their applications and a new feature on the family tree offers you potential fathers and mothers for the names you plug in. You can accept or deny them, or even say 'maybe' so you don’t necessarily need to pay to search. helps you do that.

That meant I did not have to manually plug in the 2200 names I had already! It offered me about 1600 of the names I already had. I double-checked what they offered against my notes from the family tree my father and I have been working on together and what suggested to me was 98% accurate.

That was a feature I did not expect.

Along with the percentage results you get a map with the countries your people are from highlighted. 
A cool feature with the maps is that if you click on the seemingly random century timeline on the bottom it will show you where your people were at the start of each century. You can see vague migration patterns. And if you’re very English, like me, and your people don’t move around so much, you can zoom in on the map and see it in more detail!

I am very happy with this test. It’s the only one I’ve taken so I can’t speak to any others. I would like to take the 23&me test to see what genetic anomalies lurk in my ancestral blood and see how the results compare.

As far as genetic privacy goes, you have options when you activate the kit. You can change those options anytime you want through your account settings. They were explained well. I should say that the more private your settings the less matches you will find yourself with. I risked it. I don’t like making choices-for-now based on what might happen in the future. But it's a personal choice. You can have your account and dna deleted at any time. 

I’ll be posting about some of the things I learned in the upcoming weeks. Happy hunting to my fellow genealogists!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Thinning Worlds

At Samhain I honor my Ancestral Dead and formally welcome them into my home and hearth. It’s a common practice for witches, pagans, and ancestor worship practitioners. It’s also something I do every day, not just in autumn. The other side of the Halloween coin is May Day, otherwise known as Beltane, and it’s another time when the lines between the living and the dead blur.

The living, the dead, and the energy beings that bleed into this world from another. There are too many stories of fairy folk from differing mythologies for me to not be open to the possibility that they exist on another plane. I mean, once you believe in ghosts the door to what is possible stands wide open.

And I believe in ghosts.

            They visit me in my dreams. But when the worlds are thin I see them in the waking world as well. 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. The blurs are what I refer to as wayward spirits, harmless travelers drawn towards memories of being alive. The thinner the worlds get the brighter my inner lighthouse gets. I have a room lurker who is also an old fixture I call the German Guy. I know he belongs to my maternal Grandma Art’s side and as she passed last spring I am not surprised he has come to sit with me. The hand I feel on my scalp is my Great-Grandma Elsie. She is my spirit traffic cop, never far. When the worlds bleed across each other her presence is more vigilant.

I leave out cups of tea and horribly salted chicken wings as a thank you to her. Or strawberry shortcake in season. 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. She saw what others in my family did not see and now, from a grown-up perspective, her experiences with a difficult son dictated the advice she gave me:

You have to love, anyway. You can’t let the bullies stop you from living your life.

That goes for spirit bullies, too. If you are sensitive to them, they can crowd the room and demand attention. So when I clean my Ancestor Altar and refresh it I call in peaceful spirits 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.

In this thinner world I ask the Ancestors to safeguard those who may not yet be at peace and to watch over their families.

I still grieve for Recent Dead. It wells up as the thinning comes and I can feel spirits more viscerally. I am both reminded of their loss and equally hurt that their ghost has not come to visit. 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. Their physical connection to the World They Knew is long gone and they are drawn to that familiar emotion of loss. Whether intentional or not, they sit with me. I know this. 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. It can drive them from a space. 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.

Ghosts are real.

Those blurs I see out of the corner of my eye are not all ghosts. After years of working with spirits you can sense/see the difference. Some are land wights waking after a wintry slumber. Finding a way to embrace the life-waking in the same breath as life-transitioning-through-death is a way to honor those who are no more.

Look up the histories of your ancestors and leave offerings appropriate to the lands of your people. I leave out bread and seed and fruit and tea to feed those just waking and I do it in the name of those I miss. In my grief I choose to feed life.

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 your heart honor them?

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Spirit Workings

Dream visitations are usually benign. I used to get them in the corners of my nightmares but they were always apart from the nightmare. You may be a Scrooge who has karmically earned a visit from Marley, in which case have fun. But there is no reason you should be scared of a dream visitation from spirit.

When you do a lot of work with spirits in dreams sometimes you are called to Work. There are ways to help the dead in their realm.

A friend came to me recently, in a dream. He’s been dead for a decade and his death was disarming and unexpected. As was the dream:

I’m in a hotel, wandering around. There’s some kind of wedding. We were right about coming there. Something cried out for help. We set a trap that involved pushing carts around unnoticed and drawing symbols on specific walls.

That night, another body shows up in bed with us. I hitch my breath.

He came to me as he saw himself, like Voldemort in the train station. He is wasted away to skeleton three-quarters his actual size. It breaks my heart and he cannot bear to look at me. He covers his face with his hands, crying.

He’s crying and apologizing for not working harder. He’s humiliated at how I saw him at the end, at how things ended.

I could ask him what happened.

I could ask him who did it.

I could…

But he is broken, swimming in regret and guilt and shame. And I remembered the light in the hospital that came to me when I felt most broken-- I remembered that and all of the things that he did that were good and made him someone we cared about. I pulled it up and shared that with him.

I took his face in my hands and repeated over and over again that he should be proud of the Work that he did, not what he didn’t do. I tell him to let the rest fall away.

I make him look me in the eye to see how I see him.

He removes his hands and his eyes are so piercingly blue.

It takes hours of unflinching gazing. And then he smiles.

In the end there was peace. For both of us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Getting to Know Uncle Frank

       I have mentioned my Uncle Frank before, in a piece I posted My Great Aunts and Uncles in 2014. He was the brother to my 2x Great-Grandfather Hiram King Wicker. Hiram was a well-to-do man in Lockport, NY but his brother Frank was a man whose career took him to New Orleans, Alaska, and Cuba.
       He was among the surveyors of Russian-America which would later be called Alaska, whose purchase was based on his findings. Frank Wicker worked for the Telegraph Company and while on expedition, he kept a journal of his- often monotonous- journey. 
       His journal is in a stack of photocopied pages. I have been working on transcribing them. It took me a few days to get the feel of his handwriting before I could get into a rhythm. But once my eyes adjusted to his script, I began to read 'him' within the words.
       Sometimes this work feels a lot like time travel.
       I'm in love with Uncle Frank's quiet and clever wit in how he manages the men and the captain. His journal is very matter of fact and yet I hear his humor and amusement and I feel I am getting to know him.
       I'm in love with the way he elongates his lower case 'p' and swirls his 'I' and 'S'. I love that if my brain reads 'r' it's meant to be 'w'. And if I see 'm' its really an 'r'.
       And he's a reader. He's currently working through both Hugo and Dumas. He and I agree about Hugo's unabridged works: "His descriptions are a little too definite and become tiresome and uninteresting." (I mean, who needs to spend 62 pages writing about packing hats?!)
       Uncle Frank is also very serious about how he represents the Telegraph Company. I can recognize moments where he was totally That Guy asserting Authority just to wave his dick around- which he only does when the Captain of his ship harasses his men and/or threatens the purpose of the expedition. But I can also see in him the man who survived the Civil War, who wants to help shape what his beloved country is becoming.
       I am almost halfway through. We have finally arrived at Alaska and are attempting to get through the mouth of the passage. It's almost my birth day, 110 years before I was born...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Tracking the Arths from Germany

I know a lot of my genealogy. A lot. I can take a few branches back to Charlemagne, which I’m grateful for, whether or not there were errors made along the way, which happens. But when you have that many names, lines stretching back centuries, it humbles you with the vast number of people who were all integral to your standing where you are and breathing in the oxygen of this world.
That may be the truest reason why I do what I do.
I have spent my time in recovery on Ancestry, trying to push all the lines I have to their immigrant ancestor. I am hoping to, once I have a list I feel confident about, buy the International tier for a month and try to discover where in their countries these ancestors originated. But until then…
If you read my blog you know that my Grandma Pat passed away this year. I have been spending a lot of time on her family, maybe as a means of processing through our complicated relationship, but also as a means of deepening my connection to our shared ancestors. Her own mother died when she was eight and she didn’t know a lot about her family past her grandparents, the Arts, who worked as groundskeeper and housekeeper of the wealthiest family in my hometown, the Kenans.
             A few years ago I wrote down all of the Arts living in Pendleton who came from Germany, based on the family story I had been told. It was like putting a jigsaw puzzle together but eventually I figured out the relations between the separate families and then hit the jackpot when I discovered through an early census that they lived on three separate plots, all next to each other. It validated my theory that they were relations who had likely come over and settled together.
             Then my mom told me, after speaking to her mother, that my Grandma always believed she was related to the Pendleton Arts. We didn’t have this conversation until after my Grandma passed. I wish I could have told her that they were all her cousins. But her story was more verification for my theory.
            The earliest census I found them on was 1855 where Adam Art is married to Catherine (uncertain) and is the Head of his own household, on a plot beside Wilhemina Wernersbach, living with her other two children Jacob Art and George Art. As Adam was only four years older than the boys in her house, I assumed that he was Wilhemina’s older son.
            I also found an arrival note from 1853 stating that Wilhemina Wernersbach came to America from Germany. But not with her children. Was the card incomplete?
            And where was her husband? Did he not come with them to America?
Ahhh?! Oh to go back in time and act as my own census taker. “Please, who were your mum and dad and what was her family name?”
And then… a few weeks ago I discovered a new hint on Ancestry that led to a second new hint that answered some of my questions. A hand-written card from 1836, stating a departure from Antwerp, Belgium. “Georg Arth, 35 and Wilhelmina Wernersbach, 37 and Adam, 7 and Jacob 3, and Georg, 3 mo.”
The family emigrated to America together. Proof!
That hint gave me a census for 1850 which lists Wilhemina Wernersbach and her children Adam, Jacob, and George, living in the household of Jacob and Martha Vandnspoch. Based on age, I am guessing he is her brother. Maybe a cousin, but she did name a child of hers, born in Germany, after him (feels like a safe assumption). So I say brother. And if you say both last names out loud, they are variants of the same name. In America, census takers often spelled them out phonetically.
            The census of 1850 does not list whether she is widowed or not. Not all census’ asked the pertinent questions that genealogists want to know. But perhaps Wilhemina’s return visit to Germany was related to the loss of her husband George. Or a parental loss. But it was one she undertook alone.

            It's a little thing, but I feel a step closer to her, to Wilhemina, and to the clan of Arths from Hesse-Darmstadt Germany.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Without Patricia

This holiday season I am reminded of the past, of how much time changes. I am reminded of how much the passing of time changes everything. My grandmother died this year. For most of my life she was Christmas Eve. Only Christmas Eve, our once a year visit.

No judgement anymore. It's just truth. It was her choice.

I don't think saying the truth is necessarily speaking ill of the dead. Because the truth-of-what-we-do is not always kind. I mean no ill will, which I sat because I am not sure everyone in her life feels the same.

My grandma and I managed a relationship at the end. The death of her second husband freed her in ways she may not have seen, but we did. I did. I met and got to know the better version of her. It was a true gift.

I smile at that notion, as gift-giving was not her strong suit. I'll come back to that.

O Holy Night is playing in my office. I am not Catholic anymore but I have always loved this song. I remember a Christmas Eve, captive in the back room off of my Grandma's basement. where the cigarette smoke was so thick and constant we sat in a cloud. Some of her inebriated friends were there. Sweet enough as they meant to be, there was always drama associated with their drinking as the night progressed.

Some years were hard.

One of the hard ones, I was pushed into entertaining, into singing for everyone. I didn't want to. I never liked being myself at the center of attention. Give me a different skin, a glamour, or let me hide in the light of a spot.

I sang through every holiday song I knew. O Holy Night was one I sang well and really enjoyed singing. I think about that night, now that I cannot aspire to singing anything so grand yet. That register may never be mine again. I try to be grateful that I can sing at all. I mostly am. But I still think about it. When you can no longer do something you loved to do and could do well you're bound to think about it.

The song is over but now I am thinking about that night and my complicated relationship with the loss of my Grandma. Now she is gone. Now she is everywhere.

After my accident, she sent her stuffed Santa Claus along with my mother, to cheer up my rehabilitation room. I've put it out every year. After my Nancy Drew books and this one black, pink, and teal sweater I got from her circa 1989, that Puffalump Santa Claus is one of the best Christmas gifts I ever got from her.

Gifts were not her strong suit and she was always nervous about it, apologizing almost before you had the box open, eager to both defend her choice and dismiss it as a viable present. It was like she considered a test of how well she knew us from our annual visitations. The last thing she did every night was give my mom the envelope of receipts for everything.

I didn't live home after college so I didn't go over to her house for Christmas Eve anymore but she didn't forget about me. My present would be waiting at my parents' house. They were always a little random. Sometimes I couldn't even get my coat off before everyone would be pressing me to open it. What ever would it be this year? One year there was this super soft pair of leather gloves but I liked but they reeked so strongly of cigarettes my parents had banished the bag to the outdoor porch and I--oops--left it behind.

One of the last gifts was a pair of crocheted-to-look-like-ballet-shoes slippers that I returned to the store. I figured I would use the money from the gift to buy supplies for a womens' shelter. I was angry. The gift felt thoughtless, next to what my siblings received. Like she didn't know me at all. And at that age it hurt. I was taking it out on the slippers. It hurt because it was true. It was also true that she was okay with that at the time. We both were.

I got $1.25 in exchange for them.

I may never have laughed so hard in public. The hurt melted away. Why should she spend more money on someone who hadn't maintained contact with her? What part of her actions had taught me to expect more from her? That laugh was sobering. I grew up a few years in that moment. I humanized her as more than just Grandma. She was also Patricia-who-was-trying.

Maybe it's only funny with forty years of context. I laughed so loud the cashier thought I was having a breakdown. She apologized that it wasn't more. I shrugged it off and told her it was fine, that I was lucky to get anything at all.

I know my Grandma cared. I know she worried for me after my accident. She started sending me holiday cards, which I tucked away, not knowing last year's would be the last one. I even have a birthday card from her, which I got on my actual birthday.

I'm smiling, thinking of them.

My wife and I have a little tradition that originated with my family. We'd go out to dinner, a treat for us, and in between the restaurant and my Grandma's house we would drive through residential areas and look at the decorated houses, listening to holiday music on the radio.

As my wife and I drive through the West Side, looking at the houses, I think about all those years of looking at lights on the way to her house. I realized this year that we bring our ghosts with us, wherever we go. They're not always bad. And I'll happily carry her ghost with me on those drives, something meaningful to me.

I'll talk to her know when I want to, even if they're just words spoken to air. There is power in words spoken and unspoken. I will change the pattern. There's still time to get to know each other a bit better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Dream Visitation From Zami

One of the easiest methods for spirits to communicate with us is through our dreams. People with vivid and active dream lives are extra sensitive to this energy and more likely to experience and recall them. Everyone perceives the sensory nature of visitations differently. In sharing my own, I hope to help others discover their own methods of connection.

A year ago our 22 year-old tiger cat passed away. Zami was with me for most of my adult firsts. She was our companion, more like a third partner. Even the cranky-old-lady-who-slept-twenty-three-hours-a-day's loss left an emptiness in our home. It ebbed when I wasn't looking. The new silence became the new normal. And life continued on.

Then I had a dream last night. In it I was walking through our living room and I looked over to see her curled up and sleeping beneath our tree. I got halfway across the room before my sarah-brain noted that I wasn't having a hey-look-my-dead-cat-is-in-this-one, but rather a Holy Shit Spirit Zami is Visiting! 

For me the difference is obvious, like the difference between the quality of a show shot on videotape versus a movie shot on film. Only the spirit visitor is one version overlaid atop the main dream. They're impossible for me not to notice.

And there Zami was. I approached her tentatively, afraid she'd vanish after I noticed her. I called her name and she opened one eye at me before closing it again, ignoring my presence. (That's another way I knew it was her, lol.) And then I touched her. There was a pang for a moment, as if I had forgotten how she felt beneath my palm and the memory woke again in me. 

I touched her and she leaned into it as her fucking-loud-ass-purr-machine revved into overdrive. When she was alive she could purr so loud for so long that when she stopped in the night it would wake me. 

In the dream I was crying. It hurt. You move on but you never get over it. I forgot how visceral her loss was until I was touching her again. For a moment it feels like a horribly awful trick, not a gift. I miss her so much. 

My heart hurts thinking about it now. But I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't wish it away for I am reminded of how much I loved her and how much I love her still.
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