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 27, 2012

Where We've Been, Where We're Going

Charles & Ruth Ruston.
I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together… John Lennon

That song lyric has been swimming through my head. I am, because my ancestors were. They were so that I could become. And I am meeting strangers through my blog in states far away from me who exist because our same ancestor did. It feels like that first moment you find yourself out in the country and you look up and see how dense with stars the night sky really is. It’s breathtaking, awe-inspiring, humbling, and slightly terrifying.
When I started this blog, I had a list of 465 names from my father for our family tree. A dozen or so of them were of my mother’s line but most were the culmination of the research his family had been doing for generations. Even though it was a lot of names, I knew there were more. There are always more, stretching back into the ancestral ether when there were no names put to faces.
We are more than our names. We are more than our date of birth and date of death. In truth, we are more than the list of occupations we take on in our lifetimes.
In my work I am striving to uncover the unknown, through diligent research and spiritual meditation. I currently have 701 names on my ancestral tree. The names spin around in my head like strands of thread and the tapestry is weaving itself into my memory. I find myself speaking their surnames aloud in my meditations, calling to them, asking them for guidance. There are 250 surnames known to me, covering all 701 of my known ancestors.
Having the names means so much to me. Knowing a lineage is exciting. But they are just names. It is the clues in the research that flesh out the bone and character of the men and women.
Charles Evan Ruston, the son of a wealthy farmer in England, fell in love with Ruth Ireland, a servant girl in the home of a family who went to their church. His father made him choose and he chose her. They came to America together and their granddaughter was my grandmother. Charles was disowned and the members of our family who have gone over to trace the Rustons passed his father Richard, have been told that Richard did not have a son named Charles- though Charles shows clearly on the English census reports up to 1881.
It’s human of us to want to change our histories to sound better or to suit how we see the world we’ve created. But I embrace the truth of the stories, even dear Hawise of Lancaster, who married her nephew John De Lea. They were only 5 years apart in age, but still… she married her brother’s son in the late 1100s. It happened and it’s part of my family tree.
What I know about my ancestors, is that the men in my mother’s paternal line have been factory workers, truck operators, die setters, farmers, day laborers, saw mill operators, militia drum majors, soldiers, traders with the West Indies, lumberjacks, maltsters, innkeepers, Deacons, master shipwrights, constables, Masters at a Grammer School, and refugees fleeing Protestant massacres.
The men in my mother’s maternal line have been factory workers, blacksmiths, stewards, chaffeurs, gardeners, bootleggers, city laborers, canal lock tenders, stonecutters, soldiers, farmers, canal workers, livery hack owners, and farm laborers.
The men in my father’s maternal line have been bank clerks and insurance salesmen, farm laborers, factory workers, carpenters, merchants of flour and feed stores, Masons, wealthy farmers, carpenters, soldiers, shoemakers, ferryboat operators, prisoners of war, cabinetmakers, shoemakers, translators with the Natives, and civil engineers.
The men in my father’s paternal line have been bookkeepers, farm laborers, prison guards, soldiers, wheelwrights, farmers, lumberjacks, carpenters, curate and church wardens, tanners, authors, Captains, constables, Ministers, weavers, fenceviewers, Sheriffs and forest Rangers, Knights of the Order of the Garter, members of Parliament, Lords, Earls and Barons, engravers in the King’s mint, merchants, goldsmith to the King, chamberlain of Scotland, crusaders, more Knights, and even Kings themselves.
Of the women, I know they were housewives, mothers, as well as farmers and crafters of clothing and sustenance. There were glovemakers and singers, as well as Countesses and creators of peace through arranged marriages. And a concubine and a mistress. One woman named Alice, whose lineage is unknown to historians, was married to John Eaton in Watertown, MA. She was seen with great respect by the town for her husband had some weakness, some life affliction that kept him not always in his right mind. And she managed the house and went to the authorities when others tried to take advantage of him and his fortunes. It is sad to me that her name is not known, but what strength of character she must have had. That strength flows in me.
Out of the names I know and the information I have as to their geographic location, my cultural lineage in order of dominance is English, American, French, Dutch, Welsh, Irish, Scottish, Norman, Germanic, and Polish. I think of that bloodline, that DNA in me, like a river that streams, that ebbs and flows, whose volume and currents will change as more information is made available to me.
I call to my ancestors, the known among the bloodline and the others whose spirits answer to these names, yet unknown: Albertse, Andrews, Art, Atherton, Auckland, Bailey, Baldwin, de Banastre, Barnes, Bassett, Beaman, de Beauchamp, de Beaumont, Beck, de Bellews/Beaulieu, Berry, Bird, Birdsall, Blois, Bondt, Boots, Borden, Botetourt, Boutell, Brereton, Brigham, Briscoe, Brock, de Brus, Bryan, Burke, Burnah, Bursell, Burzee, Calhoun, Canfield, Capen, Chaffe, Channon, Charland, Clapp, Clickner, Clitheroe/de Clitheroe, Coe, Coleman, Conners, Conyers, Cooke, Corbet, Corbman, Cornelisse, Coulon, Crane, Cressett, Crosby, Davis, Deblois dit Gregoire, Dell, Dighton, de Dive, Dixon, Domett, Dow, Dowd, Downing, Dubois, Durant, Dutcher/De Duyster/De Duitscher, Dyer, Eastman, Eaton/de Eaton, Emett, Enberg, Erkells, Evans, Fafard, Feagles, Field, Fitch, Fitzalan, Fitzbaldric, Fitzharding, Fitzotes, Fitzrobert, Fitzthomas, Fitzwilliam, Flaad, Ford/Fford/de Ford, Foster, Freemillion, Furnival, Gay, Gibbs, Gillette/Gillett/Gylette/de Gylette, Gilson, Goedemoet, Gordon, Goode, Goodere, Goodwin, Gould, Gower, de Grammaire, de Grandmesnil, de Gras, Green, Groves, Gruier, Gunn, Hakins, Halsey, Hannah, Hanniford, Harblutt, Hawley, de Hedsin, Hemenway, Hertford, Hill, Holbrook, Holland, Honor, de Houghton, Hoyt, Hussey, Ireland, Jennery, Jones, Kelsey, Kempe, Kendall, Kittredge, Knowles, La Groves, de Lancaster, LaRoche, LaValley/Lavalle/Lavallee, Lamorel, de Lancaster, Lane, Langevin, de Lea, Lesueur/Le Sueur/Lozier/De Lozier/Delozier, Lemonier, Lenton, Leroux, De Leuchars, Lillie, Lunt, Lusk, Lyon, Machet, de Maeschines, Manningford, Manningham, Marsh, Marshall, Masters, Merchant, Mestre, Meunier dit Lemonier, Michel, Morgan, Moulton, Nichols, Norton, Nunwicke, Paine, Palmer, Paquet/Paquet dit Lavallee, Parker, Pearson, Perry, Pietersen, Pils, Pond, Pye, de Qunicy, Raymond, Reeve, Richardson, Riddle/Ridel/Riddell, Rolfe, Ruston, de Saint Liz/Senlis, Sallee, Sallows, Savage, de Say, Schmeelk, Sears/Sayer, Seubering, Sherborne, Skiff, Slote, Smith, Sotheron, de Spendler,
St. Philibert, de Stafford, Stanley, Stapleton/de Stapleton, Starr, de Stuteville/de Estuteville, Sutton, de Swynnerton, Talbott/de Tallebot, Talmage, Tempest, Tenney, Terhune, Thurgood, Tibou, Tobey, de Tonge, de Tosny, Townsend, Treadwell, Ufflete/de Ufflete, de Upton, De Valognes, Van der Linde, Van Deusen, Van Gelder, Van Vorhees, Vose, Waddington, Walker, Ward, de Warenne, Washburn, de Wath, Watson, Wattes, Wheeler, Whitcher/Whittier/Whytear, Wicker/Whicker, Williams, Wilson, Withington, Wolfe, Woodhall, Woodward, Wrottesley, Wyatt, Zabriskie

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Solstice, Sunning Stones

It is the first day of summer. Gardens are growing, blackberry blossoms are opening, and strawberries are ripe in the fields. The green is unfurling into splendor and its heraldry is prompted by the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice. The natural world around us still holds that yellow-green hue of energy and growth.
In my childhood, summer meant the arrival of my Great-Grandma Elsie, who we called Grandma-from-Florida. She spent every summer with us, sleeping in the small spare room with the white chenille bedspread. I have memories of sitting in her room in the morning while she dressed, running hands over the raised pattern of the bedspread that only she used. Summer for us meant Great-Grandma’s sweater sets and culottes. I remember my fascination over how she put on her knee-high stockings every day before slipping on her sandals.
Elsie was born on June 21, 1904. If she was alive she’d be 107. The way her face lit up when we enjoyed the first fresh strawberry shortcake of her visit was a joy that could outshine the sun itself. Every strawberry I eat in-season tastes like that memory. It tastes like Elsie’s joy.
Summer was family time and the warmth that comes with it. Summer was the wild abandon of playing fantastical games with neighborhood friends for days on end, called to enjoy the heat while we could. We were like moths dancing around the sun.
The ancestor work that I do is as much about the living and the now as it is about the ones who came before me. Those layers of memories that I am lucky to have of what family means, with both my blood family and the chosen family I build around me, are the energy source that propels my genealogical research into uncovering the ones who came before. And I do it all so that the ones who come after will know the names and the stories.
Family matters. It’s not always easy or painless. We’re not all lucky enough to have it in our formative years. But finding it, creating it, birthing it, is at the core of what we do and how we survive.
When I think of that feeling, that energy, I think of the futhark runes Cen (aka ken or kenaz) and Sigel (aka sowilo or sol). Cen is the internal warmth and fire. Sigel is the sun, the outer heat. Cen is the heat of the hug that you give and receive when you are truly happy to see someone. It is the inner sun. The inner warmth. Moving from your internal hearth fire outward. Solstice is the perfect time to recharge your inner joy, using the heat of the sun above us, at its height as an energy source.
Make yourself a simple talisman for carrying that energy into the waning days of the year. Place a stone outside, where it will catch the rays of the day. It can be a special stone that has other meaning for you or it can be a stone you find in your yard or at the park. Charge it under the full height of the noon light and leave it outside until dusk finally sets in. As Solstice officially begins at 7:00 pm today, I will be setting my stone out tomorrow.
 Keep the stone inside your house during the year, in whatever room becomes your hearth, your nesting space. My stone becomes my talisman through the winter, through the other solstice with its longest night. When I have need, I hold it in my hands.
Beneath the cool exterior lies a flicker of heat. I can close my eyes and feel the warmth of the summer sun caressing my skin. I can hear the laughter of children at play. I can taste the juice of fresh, ripe strawberries. I can see the joy on Elsie’s face and I know she walks with me still. I know the ancestors stand with her and I know they stand with me from longest day to longest night and back again, turning on the wheel as the living world moves forward.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father

This is the second installment in a monthly thread, where I will be looking back at the early experiences I had with death and reflecting on how those moments shaped my views and fears of it. In order to change my relationship with the concept of death, I have to understand what shaped it to begin with. Our ideas and philosophies are meant to evolve and change, to grow as our own experiences do. It is important to note that my perceptions are based on my memory, and I understand the facts may differ, but what we remember is the emotional memory we carry with us into future moments.

I only have one clear memory of my father’s father, though I have many later memories of his house, the one my dad grew up in, where the clan would gather every Christmas. In my recollection, we were at the house during the holiday season, in the living room with my Grandpa. My Grandma was in the kitchen.
There was this beautiful stone wall/fireplace in the living room and I loved the feel of the stone beneath my hands. I loved the feel of the earth on the inside. I was sitting in front of it and I remember my Grandpa smiling at us, asking us if we wanted a cookie. My parents both said no but he wouldn’t be stopped and he left the room. My parents told us we could each have one cookie (I think we were on our way to dinner).
I remember him coming back from the kitchen with a platter full of all different kinds of cookies. He was smiling as if his greatest pleasure in the world was giving his grandchildren cookies against his childrens’ protestations. When I close my eyes I can see that smile. The next bits of memory I have of my Grandpa Mark are sadder, laying on the couch, an afghan thrown over him. He was sick with cancer.
When he died, we did not attend the funeral. We were too young; I was only about six. I didn’t understand. Not at first. Grandpa went away. But one of my neighborhood friends had moved to another school system and had gone away, as in was not going to be in my daily life anymore. How small our worlds are at that age. But I knew that she was still alive, somewhere else in the city. So I didn’t fully understand. All I knew was that we wouldn’t see him again.
My father was so sad. It’s an impression I have that I carried with me through my childhood. I knew it was because he would never see his father again. I couldn’t imagine. I still can’t. It’s not a shadow I’ve known yet.
I don’t know exactly when, after my grandfather died, I started my nightly musings but I used to try to imagine what it would be like to die. I unknowingly walked myself through a nightly meditation into shutting down my body, my sister sleeping in the bed across the room from me. One by one I would tune into my muscles, my limbs, and disconnect until I couldn’t feel them anymore.
Then I would imagine losing brain function. In my youth that meant everything the brain operated, including memory. It wouldn’t matter that my parents would miss me because I wouldn’t remember they were my parents. That they’d been my parents at all. That all of the things I stressed about wouldn’t matter when this life was over.
I have always been an over-thinker, to my own detriment. I had stumbled into the philosophy of the finality of death and dying before I had any concept of transformation or spiritual rebirth. I did not believe the soul or spirit was separate from the body yet.
Around then, I dreamt that I walked into my Grandfather’s living room and the green couch I had seen him laying on was empty. I turned the corner to go to the hallway to the kitchen but found myself standing in our living room. Where the carpet should have been was grass. There were four freshly buried graves. Four but not five. I ran around the house and no one else was there. All the beds were empty. My father, mother, brother and sister were gone. I was alone.
It broke something in me. I woke from that nightmare terrified. I realized more about what had happened than I could comprehend. Sometime before or after that, in the middle of school I started screaming that my grandpa was dead. I was sent down to the nurse’s office until my mom came to get me. I remember the feeling inside me. It was as if something had just taken a bite out of the light inside me, leaving a large black hole where the thread that held him to me had been. I couldn’t access it anymore. He was gone and I was sad, too.
At this point in my childhood, I equated death with loss, simple and finite. I began to fear it and in the years that followed that fear would grow. It would be a decade and more before I learned the tools to change that perspective.

Relevant Posts:
Introduction to Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Looking for Emma Louise Burnah

I don’t remember my Great-Grandma Elsie talking about her family. At least not the one she grew up in. I have a letter she wrote to me when I first got my glasses in third grade. I was self-conscious about them and she told me that when she was a little girl and she got glasses, no one else wore them. She assured me that they were at least fashionable now and she thought they would suit me.
Elsie got her glasses around 1910. I loved her and I loved the way she loved our family. In honor of my memories of her I have been trying to find more of her family tree. I have been searching for her roots.
My Great-Great Grandmother, Elsie’s mother, was born Emma Louise Burnah in Redfield, NY in 1869. In the census reports I have found, she appears to have gone by Louise or Louisa and her parents were born in Canada. She married George Durant in 1889 and they lived in Vermont until sometime before 1920. They had 11 children, of which Elsie was the youngest. Elsie used to tell me that she was the baby, but I didn’t realize just how big her family was!
George died five years before Louise did. She was a live-in servant for Thomas Evamer, and her husband lived with Elsie and my Great-Grandfather. She died in 1939 and is buried in a Roman-Catholic cemetery, the same church I attended with my Great-Grandma as a child. But who was Louise? Who were her parents? What kind of surname is Burnah?
Initially I had her name listed as Burmah, but on her daughter Rosa’s marriage license she wrote Burnah, so I am running with that as accurate. I looked up the history of Redfield, NY in 1869. I could find no mention of a Burnah in any of the historical records of the town, located on the Salmon River. It was a village just outside of a military encampment and near an Indian settlement. It was an important hub of activity in the late 1800s. But there are no genealogical records of any Burnahs.
If I have learned anything with my genealogical research, it is that you just have to be willing to take an intuitive leap and trust that, until you prove it wrong, it could be true. Most scholars agree that the name Burnah evolved from Brunet, Old French for “dark brown.” Most likely the spelling evolved from the way it was spoken. And, if you take into consideration that spelling was mostly by sound until after Webster standardized it, Burnah could have derived from a number of sources: Burnah, Burmah, Brunet, Bernache, Burnham, Burman, etc. I am leaving the door wide open.
I have found a James Burnham, 35, working as a laborer in the woods in Redfield NY in 1870, the year after Emma was born. He was from Canada and does not show on any census after. Could he be a father to my great-great-grandmother? According to the history of Redfield, there were many passers-through during the 1860s.
Outside of Redfield, taking another leap, I have found a slew of Burnahs located in the Saranac area of Redford, NY, along that same time period. They are noted as being Indian and speaking French, and having emigrated from Canada. I am currently running under a second possible assumption that maybe Emma was born in Redford, not Redfield, in an effort to find a possible relation. Even still, Redfield would have been a possible stop on the way to WNY from Redford, so I could be on a good track. Elsie always told us there was Indian in our family line, but she said it was “a ways back.”
I cannot find an Emma Louise Burnah on any census report until after she married George Durant in 1889, but I have far from exhausted my out-of-the-box thinking. I have drafted two letters, one to each town’s historical society and will wait to see what news I hear. Until then, I can only hope that someone might stumble across my page and have information I don’t about the mysterious Emma Louise (Burnah) Durant.
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