Having studied Jungian psychology in both undergrad and grad schools, I resonated particularly with Jung’s writings on “meaningful coincidences” (AKA “synchronicity”).
What does that have to do with genealogy?
I had two separate significant journeys into my family’s past and I’ll write about the initial one:
The first one happened when my mother’s sister, a former Chicago reporter, wrote about my maternal grandmother’s family in 1997. After typing nearly 40 pages of well-researched family history (beginning in Poland, to immigration to the United States, and finally to present time), my aunt sent copies to her living relatives.
My aunt later told me that no one, outside of my mother and me, responded to her labor of love.
Since my maternal grandmother died when her daughter (my mom) was just 3 years old, all of that history was lost for a while. It didn’t help that the rest of my grandmother’s family was mostly in Chicago while my mother was living in Western Pennsylvania with her father and other relatives. My aunt’s stories brought my mom a lot of comfort since she could learn a bit more about her own mom.
I ran away….right into the heart of my family’s history
My aunt’s writings shattered my universe, however, since they demonstrated that I was not as separate from my family as I once thought.
First, there was the tragic tale of my great-aunt’s demise on a ship that capsized in the Chicago River in 1915 (my great-aunt was just 19). I spent a couple of years writing articles and a book about this event. On my journey back through time, I tried finding any living people that might have known my great-aunt.
I didn’t have to look too far.
By reading the rest of my aunt’s detailed family history, I learned that, while my great-grandparents immigrated to Chicago, the rest of that family (including my great-great grandmother and several of my great-grandmother’s brothers and sisters) homesteaded in Western Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota — not far from the Twin Cities, where I relocated on a whim in the 1980s. I was then able to locate cousins and one great-uncle who knew my great-aunt Martha, my grandmother and the rest of my family. Those who I initially contacted were quite old and have since passed on.
Back to the Twin Cities connection. I chose the Twin Cities on a lark – I wanted something dramatically different from Cleveland, where I grew up– and Minnesota filled the bill. It was newer, cleaner, and had a vibrant arts scene. A dream come true! A place where I could engage in a total re-invention of my life without worrying about any disapproving family members!
Yet, the underlying reason I chose the upper Midwest was that, despite its newness to me, it felt like home. Talk about a contradiction.
Learning that I moved to a previously unknown ancestral home, shook me to the core. “Hmm,” I thought, “perhaps I’m not all that original after all.”
My main philosophy is summed up in “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. There he wrote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” In other words, as I grew up, I understood that there was no one to blame–or praise–for the choices I made. I might be influenced by people or philosophies, but in the final analysis I was in charge my own life’s journey.
Or was I?
My move to the Twin Cities made me feel like a true original, a pioneer at first. Yet, when I look back at my writings from that period, although I didn’t initially know anyone, the area was familiar and not strange at all.
Was this recognition the result of DNA or the voices of my ancestors calling? I’ll never know. But as I’ve shared this story with people throughout the years, it generally yields a shocked expression and comments such as, “Oh my god!” or “You really didn’t know you had family here?” So the story didn’t just affect me, but others as well.
Most skeptics (I count myself in that camp) would write this off, but, my journalistic integrity supersedes any belief system. I have always let the facts take me where they will, even if they mess with my belief system. While I remain a skeptic, I’m not dogmatic, and am open to expanding my (un)belief system as experiences such as these find their way into my life.
Along those lines, I hope that, as people journey through their own history, they will also continue to be open and not discount any “coincidences” just because they collide with a limited world view.
Don’t worry about what “they” think. Instead, take the hint and follow it into your next adventure!