You Hear Them Calling

You Hear Them Calling

By Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

Do you have any of those nagging family stories that just will not leave you alone?  One of the many intriguing stories in my family is the reason that my grandfather, Abner Hamblen, changed the spelling of his last name to Hamblin.  My grandfather, his brothers and sisters, and their parents had a major rift before my mother was born.  As a result, my mother, her siblings, and their children did not know many, if any, of their numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Mom told my sister and me that her father changed the spelling of his last name, Hamblen to Hamblin, over this family rift.  According to her story when my grandfather was a young man, one of the numerous Hamblens died; and it seems the maker of the tombstone misspelled the name as Hamblin.  This caused such a furor in the extended family that, in anger, my grandfather changed his name.  I have heard that story my whole life.  It was a sad story, which had nagged me.  I always wanted to say to my grandfather, “Pawpaw, changing your name seemed such a drastic thing to do.  Why would you do that?”  Unfortunately, he died when I was about eight years old so that dialogue was not an option.

Three years ago, I met and started communicating with a second cousin, who had a very different story.  In fact she is a daughter of my great uncle, i.e., my grandfather’s brother, and therefore closer to the event than I.  The story her father told was that Abner (my grandfather) was so mean that he kicked their poor father off his farm and his father had to go live in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his other children.  This new story sparked great interest in me to explore this issue.  My cousin and I have had several other ancestry discoveries together and this seemed to be the next one to tackle.

Given the sleuths we both are, she and I discussed information we already had and what else we needed.  We needed farm deeds; any letters in the family about the subject; to talk with living relatives who might have relevant information; names of family members and if, and when, they changed; birth and death dates and places; and any other information on relationships among family members.  I spoke with several relatives including my aunt, my last living aunt or uncle; my sister; and my cousins.  Unfortunately, they each knew the same story that I did, so that information was not helpful.

Next, we turned to the US Census, which can be accessed in various ways.  I chose to go into www.ancestry.com to which I have a membership.  A complete listing of all US Census is available and easily accessible.  It is also accessible via www.familysearch.org/search  where I entered the first and last name and searched.  I chose various census listings for different decades.  I searched for both Abner Hamblin and Christopher Columbus Hamblen, his father.  As expected , I found that Abner was born with Hamblen as his last name and that spelling was used in the 1880 Census.  To my surprise, he also used it in the 1930 Census.  However, he used Hamblin in 1900, 1910, and 1920.  Columbus Hamblen was listed as Hamblin in the 1860 (actually Hamlin), 1870, 1900, 1910, and on his death certificate in 1941.  He used Hamblen in 1850 and 1880 on his Censuses and 1876 on his marriage certificate.  Hence, they both flipped back and forth freely.

Next, we went in search of land deeds in Anderson County, Tennessee.  I sent a letter to the Register of Deeds giving my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s names and asked if there were any deeds in either name along with a range of years.  I offered to pay for the work.  A very nice letter arrived a few weeks later with copies of two deeds belonging to my grandfather Hamblin.  Much to my surprise, there was no charge.  I looked at the seller of the land and in neither case was it from my great-grandfather to my grandfather. Therefore, we negated the possibility that the feud started over a land transaction that soured.

My cousin's father told her that Columbus Hamblen lived the last few years of his life on my grandfather’s farm.  According to her father, my grandfather kicked his father off the farm and he had to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee to live with his other children.  To help solve this piece of the puzzle, I went back on-line to www.ancestry.com and found a copy of the Death Certificate for my great-grandfather.  These records are also available by writing to the county officials.  Guess what…it was in Anderson County where the farm was located rather than in Chattanooga.  I also recall my uncle telling me that the US Government condemned my grandfather’s farm in the early 1940’s to help create Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  At the time, my uncle helped to dig up the few graves, including my great-grandfather’s grave, in the small family cemetery on the farm to relocate them.  I checked with my cousin and she had documentation that his grave was relocated to a cemetery near Chattanooga.  These pieces of the puzzle then solidified the fact that my great-grandfather died in Anderson County, probably on the farm, and was buried on the farm in the family cemetery.  Apparently, my grandfather had not kicked his father off the farm.  Hence, we debunked that theory.

Sharing this information with our current and future relatives is very important to me.  Early in my ancestry work, I invested in ancestry software to help organize the information.  Then I submitted the family tree information to on-line ancestry services like www.rootsweb.ancestry.com, which is free to use, and www.ancestry.com, which has a cost.  Fortunately, there are several options and the costs seem reasonable.  I looked at a few options and quickly settled on Family Tree Maker.  In fact, I just purchased the 2012 version that is available on-line through the various bookstores (e.g., Amazon.com).  Family Tree Maker is directly connected with both www.ancestry.com and www.rootsweb.ancestry.com  making interconnectedness very simple.  The interconnectedness accelerated my own work and made it much easier once I began to spend a lot of time working on my ancestry.  Using some common type of software is useful because you can then share easily with others and it organizes your information in a standard format.  I initiated a different family tree for each of my four grandparents.  This has kept the file sizes at a manageable level.  Always keep a hardcopy and electronic backup of everything as computers sometimes fail.  Develop a good filing system early as it will serve you in the future.

My cousin and I still have not pinpointed a “smoking gun” but we continue to delve into it.  The cause of the rift was my grandfather’s poor relations with his father.  Although stubbornness and some level of pride run in my family, I feel that my Hamblen/Hamblin ancestors want us to know what happened.  Could it be a lesson for us not to repeat such a disaster?  Are they telling My cousin and me that ill-founded pride causes much suffering? Do my grandfather and his father regret the rift and seek resolution through my cousin and me?

Ancestors are with us always.  They can advise us and help us resolve old issues like the long-festering one in my family and they can help us know the future or possible results of our actions.

In Keltria, we honor the Ancestors as one of the three basic tenants of our spirituality.  We must know them and work closely with them in our search for wisdom.  We may be their chance for peace or vice versa.

 - Ádh mơr ort!

Ancestors

From the President

Ancestors

by Tony Taylor

Photo of Tony Taylor with deer staff

Tony Taylor

Wren, GreyBoar, BeanSidhe, and I recently hosted a booth at a small Pagan gathering near Atlanta promoting The Henge of Keltria. It was an excellent opportunity to network with people I seldom see and meet new folks. We all enjoyed sharing how and why Keltrian Druids celebrate the Triads and the wheel of the year with people from a variety of paths.

While conversing with a young Druid of a different tradition about Ancestors, Wren brought up the subject of genealogy as a tool for knowing one’s ancestors better and how it enriches that part of the Triad. He seemed a little surprised at first, his previous experiences with people using this area of study was usually someone attempting to prove lineage to royalty or a relative of renown. For him, like many, the concept of “ancestors” was rather nebulous and shrouded in the mists of time along with the Gods and Nature Spirits.  Several of us joined in the conversation explaining why genealogy is an important tool in our spirituality.

One of the three foundations of Keltrian Druidism is to “honor the Ancestors.” For many Keltrians, “Ancestors” include those who helped us form an understanding of our spiritual selves, those who impacted us directly, and those who are genetically related to us.  The first two are easy for us to remember and honor because they affected us during our lifetime; we remember them.  Those who died before us, whose impact upon us is indirect, but still important, are much more difficult to honor because we really don’t know them.

We use the tools of genealogy to learn and understand more about those ancestors we have never met.  Through that understanding comes the ability to honor them.  Learning and understand their lives, their aspirations, and their challenges may be the key to understanding yourself and your values.  For example, neither my 2nd great-grandfather, his siblings, nor his wife could read or write.  All of his children attended school and received an education, even though the school was over 5 miles distant and a difficult walk during the rough Minnesota winters. I believe that my belief in the importance of an education came from him.  This genealogical history provides material for me to honor him. Not only do I know his name, but also I know many things that were of importance to him.

Our knowledge of our ancestors provides the context for us to honor them. Without my 2nd great-grandfather’s name, without knowledge of his experiences, without knowing some of his values, I would not be able to honor him.  Genealogy, from the Keltrian perspective, is not about learning of a royal bloodline or finding lost cousins. It is about the having the knowledge of our Ancestors making it possible to honor them better.

Connecting with your Ancestors

Connecting with your Ancestors

By Steward of the Wood

Photo of Steward of the Wood at the Lia Fail

Steward of the Wood

What is it that connects people, not only to family but even to total strangers?  Of course many things attract us, but one of the strongest is our common bonds.  Humans are “pack” animals like horses, wolves, cattle, and many other creatures.  In addition to a common need for shelter and food, there is a basic need for social interaction.  We need each other spiritually as well as biologically.

Have you ever stopped to think of all the ways that you are connected to other humans, both alive and dead?  It is a fact that the DNA in every cell of your body was passed to you by your ancestors.  In fact you are carrying exact copies of genes that are tens to hundreds of thousands of years old.  No wonder we feel closeness with our ancestors.  In addition, our bodies and personalities are shaped by those genes and the family environment in which we grew.  When you look at a stranger’s face in a crowd, do you sometimes see your own or a close relative’s features?  There is a reason for that.  A simple formula (2n) illustrates my point.  For every generation that you go back from yourself, take where n is the number of generations from yourself. For the number of parents, n=1 and you have =2. For your grandparents, n=2 and you have =4 and so on. Just for fun, let’s go back twelve generations, about 400 years, to when the Europeans arrived in the New World.  If I did my math right, we would each have 4096 ancestors.  Can you imagine?  No wonder there is a common bond to others…we are all generally related. Assuming that there are on average three generations per hundred years, how many people were our direct ancestors when the Celts arrived in Ireland perhaps 2500+ years ago, in 75 generations?

Spiritually as Druids, we feel a strong connection to our ancestors as well as to our own spirits from past lives.  We believe that the Ancestors are with us at all times; and remember, yours are there too.  Our parents, grandparents and so on back to the dawn of time are with us… and that is a good thing.  As you pray to the Ancestors during ritual or at other times, pray to your personal ancestors, call them by name, look at their pictures, hold an object that they owned, visit their home or other place where they lived or died.  If you listen carefully, they will communicate with you.  It is exhilarating.  Personally, it is more of a “knowing” that an ancestor is with me or perhaps the hair may stand up on the back of my neck or I may feel a little queasy.  I am learning to not panic but to just “be with it” and listen with all my senses.  By this simple process, I often feel a “leaning or direction” which leads to a solution to my question.

I observed a very interesting phenomenon over my life time, but especially in the past five years as I learned specifically about Druidry.  Almost universally, people like to talk about their relatives, their ancestors, and where they lived.  As I grew closer to my ancestors, I started making a point to ask others about their ancestors.  Almost without exception, someone will tell me about where they grew up and then frequently we begin to talk about the national origin of their family.  It is amazing and incredibly powerful.

Usually the interaction starts with a general dialogue.  For example, this dialogue could develop sitting next to someone on a plane.  With family, friends, and colleagues, the discussion may unfold over a cup of coffee or other libation.  At some point, I ask where they “hail from” and then the dialogue and excitement invariably starts.  I always encourage them to share first and then I share some of my background.  Many times the person asks me how I came to learn so much about my ancestors.  I describe the process of starting with living relatives and resources such as family trees, pictures, letters, etc.  Then I describe using online resources, both free and for-pay.  Usually at this point, I give them the free website of www.rootsweb.com.  Two simple examples follow of how this worked for me.

Last summer, my sister and her life partner visited me; and of course during the visit, I engaged them in a discussion of ancestry. My sister’s partner told me her family story and how little ancestry she knew beyond her grandparents. Later that day, I invited her to sit with me at the computer to investigate ancestry together. Before long, we found information on her parents and grandparents and their siblings. Intrigued, I traced her family tree for several hours the next day and pieced together her ancestry to the early 1800’s.

Photo of Immigrants Landing at Ellis Island - Public Domain - US Government

Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, New York Harbour (c.1900)

She joined me periodically, her eyes glistening and her voice animated. When they left the next day, I presented her with a hardcopy of her family tree dating to the early 1800s. I have known her for over twenty years and cannot remember an incident in which she was so excited.  I gifted her with knowledge and the possibility of connection with her ancestors.  Since then she shared her family tree with her brothers and sisters and they also celebrated. What a marvelous gift and it took so little time on my part.

Another interesting incident happened recently. During a phone conversation with a work colleague from Washington, DC, she asked how I liked living in Colorado.  I replied, “I like it fine and am comfortable with the cold weather since my ancestors evolved in northern Europe.”  She immediately asked me for more details about the origin of my ancestors.  Then she quickly mentioned that her grandparents immigrated to the US through Ellis Island, New York during the 1930s and 1940s.  They were Jewish and originated from central Russia.  Unfortunately she knew little about the family except their names and origin.  I told her of possible resources including websites and how to use them. The power of our conversation fascinated me and her energy and enthusiasm was incredible.

I am called as a Bard and Druid to explore my own ancestry and to help others discover theirs. Many resources are available today, often on-line at our fingertips. Clearly a worldwide movement exists to learn about our ancestors.  Over the years, I watched the increase of the number of individuals listed on www.rootsweb.com from a few million to tens of millions.  The number grows daily…and the website is free.  Starting with this article, I will write a series of articles for Henge Happenings. Each one will address a specific aspect of learning about our ancestors. Please join me for each one and I invite you to work along with me. I ardently welcome your feedback through the Henge of Keltria office or the Keltria-L or Keltria-G group sites.  The Keltria-G group site is dedicated to ancestry. Whether you are already active in your search or just beginning, we all benefit from sharing what we know or asking questions to facilitate our quests.

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