16 July 2010


     My more skeptical readers will call today's topic "coincidence." Others might admit to occasions of  "serendipity" or "intuition" during their research. But, judging by the fascinating stories I often hear, there are many, many family historians who believe they have had psychic experiences while searching for their ancestors. I often hear people say that they believe that their ancestors are "guiding" their research.
     Makes me wonder if that lady sitting at the microfilm reader in the corner is muttering to herself or to her great grandma?
     I'll admit that I often talk to my ancestors. When I hit a brick wall, I'll say to Grandmom Large, "You started me on this hunt for all your ancestors, now where are they?" Or, if I can't find Emily Magee's plot in the cemetery, I will admonish her, "It's hot out here, and I am tired. Now quit hiding and lead me to you!" Believe me or not, but I have a 90 % success rate with my cemetery requests!
     Scoff if you will, but if I eliminated all the discoveries I have made by way of coincidence, hunches, intuition, and serendipity--and relied only on my research skills--I would have a mighty scrawny family tree.
     My personal  favorite psychic story involves a letter dated 1889, sent from the Narragansett Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, from my great grandfather John Magee to his wife. No one in the family knows why John was in Providence, and I have yet to find a family connection to that city. In the 1990's, I had done a little bit of research on the hotel and had found that it no longer existed.
     In 2002, my husband, daughter, and I visited Johnson and Wales University. I was busy with the lives of my teenage daughters at the time, and, frankly, had forgotten about my search for the hotel. As we drove into the city, I was angry at myself for being in Providence without knowing where the hotel had stood.
      We found a great parking spot on the street right smack in front of a commercial garage and congratulated ourselves on saving parking garage costs. We took the campus tour and ate dinner. Walking back to our car in the evening, my husband stopped and pointed, "LOOK UP THERE!"
      Right above our car, on the top of the facade of the garage,  we saw

                                   Yes!  THE "Narrangansett Hotel Garage!"
     That is NOT a coincidence--in my opinion, that is John Magee speaking loud and clear.
     I love hearing the kind of research tales that give me chills.  My favorites are those of people who have gone to Ireland with few clues about their ancestry, only to meet a relative or find a townland by chance. I like to think that this bit of Irish research luck is our ancestors' way repenting for burning all those records and giving all the wrong ages on the censuses.
     People often tell me family stories about ancestors with psychic powers. Quite a few have told me about grandparents born with a caul over their faces and who were reputed later in life to have extra sensory perception. Quite a few cultures, including the Irish, attach significance to being born with a caul over the face. Besides being a sign of psychic abilities, the caul has been said to be a mark of future greatness or of a talisman against drowning. My Irish American grandmom was born with a caul, and her children complained that they could not hide any wrongdoings because "that the woman had eyes in the back of her head." We have family tales of grandmom's visions and premonitions. Grandmom was prescient in one way--she is the one who, when I was but a girl, gave me her great-grandmother's letters from Ireland. Grandmom chose the correct granddaughter. Maybe she knew that those letters would lead me on a lifelong search for those ancestors--the ones the faery folk are hiding.
     If you can't quite believe in genealogical faeries or psychics, at least have a little belief in genealogical miracles. Might help your research!