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, July 31, 2013

Sharing Our Stories

The original Flight of Five locks in Lockport, NY.
I was recently home visiting my family. I haven’t lived in my hometown for almost twenty years now, and the time and distance, combined with my genealogical research, had me looking at everything with different eyes. The Erie Canal, a few blocks away from my childhood home, wasn’t just a man-made wonder of engineering and water. My 3x great-grandfather, Thomas Burke, helped carve it out of the dolomite rock. He was an Irish immigrant, living with the other workers on the north end of town. His blood and sweat went into that creation.
Walking past the garage shop down the street, where my 2x great-grandfather Hiram King Wicker, and his brother, owned a feed store together. Walking past the First Presbyterian church where I attended an interfaith youth group, and all I could think about was the photo we found from a newspaper of my great-grandma Minnie Estelle Wicker, his daughter, standing out front in her dress coat. Is there any place in my hometown my feet have trod that some other person from my extended family tree had not done so before me?
Dorothy, Great-Grandma Hattie (seated), and Grandma Ruth in Olcott.
We went to the shore of Lake Ontario, to Olcott, where I spent a lot of time as a kid. My great-grandma Elsie had a small cottage there, and as my mom drove me around to see it, I knew we were almost upon it, my memories breaking through. She pointed out another house nearby, a small quaint turquoise home, where her grandparents Art used to live. I thought of the pictures I had seen of my Grandpa Eaton’s family at the beach in Olcott, where they also had a family cottage as my mom and I sorted through rocks in the surf.
When my dad wanted to take me to a nearby cemetery, I said yes. I love cemetery walking. My niece and nephew wanted to know why Grandpa was taking me to a cemetery and when we told them someone related to us was buried there, they wanted to come with us. I introduced them to the word ancestor. Our family has lived, over generations, all over Western New York, and my dad often stops at small cemeteries as he stumbles across them.
He didn’t expect to find any familiar names in this particular one, but he knew some of our ancestors had made their homes in Olcott. It was very small, surrounded on two sides by brush and one by a road, the other by homes. One of the first obvious markers had the name Sears on it, which was a large sprawling family, of which we are part of it. They weren’t our direct ancestors, he said, but he thought they were related. So he kept looking.
At the back end of the cemetery, almost obscured, were two headstones, one collapsed from the base. They were for Heman Sears and his wife Clarissa Dubois. She died in 1873, and he died in 1880. The kids were amazed that they were related to us and we spelled out how many greats they had to put in front of grandparents- three for dad, four for me, and five for them.
When my niece asked my dad if he had known them, I started laughing. My dad walked her through the math of how old he’d have to be for that to be true, but it reminded me of the different relationship I had with my dad’s genealogy research when I was her age. And it was a delight to hear my nephew tell my sister that he went to see one of his ancestors at the cemetery. And she smiled, asking him what word he had just used. He repeated it again, and told her what it meant. And that was such a special moment for me. That whole morning of walking the quiet resting place with three generations of my family was a treasure.
Heman Sears and Clarissa Dubois, of Olcott, had a daughter named Sophia Sears, who married Ammi Smith. They had a son, Silas Parker Smith, who married Hattie Eva Dutcher. Hattie Dutcher, my 2x great-grandmother, died in childbirth with her third child, named Hattie Eva also, in 1882. She was 25 years old.
My dad showed me new treasures of our family while I was home. He has two small paintings, done on decorative boards that Hattie Eva Dutcher painted as a young woman. One of the paintings depicts the bluffs in Olcott, including a portion of the old wooden pier, before the concrete ones were poured in 1877. I held them. I touched them. I touched the wood that generations have been touching, passing on.

I think about how far the footsteps of my ancestors spread, with even just the known information we have. I think about the photos we took on our childhood trip to Boldt Castle in the 1000 Islands, and I have photos that Wickers and Rustons took of the same vacation spot at different periods of time. Maybe the point of living is simply to be marveled by the world around us, and to be a part of it. To share our stories, and our histories, so that we can discover the myriad of ways our bloodlines connect us to each other.
Sunset at Olcott Beach, with my mom, July 2013.

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