The Waiting Room – Are you listening to your ancestors?

I have always felt that my ancestors are waiting to have their stories told. It feels like they are waiting in a large white room, devoid of pictures, windows or doors. Each is waiting for their turn to have their story told.

Some are patiently sitting with their hands folded in their lap while others are pacing back and forth, arms folded across their chest. Some are bolder as they seem to tap my shoulder. “Excuse me, it’s time for my story, I’ve been waiting long enough. You need to look here.” I wonder if they are similar to the people they were in life or if it’s just my explanation for getting lost down a rabbit hole.

Sometimes they present themselves with urgency. Like the time I was packed and ready to visit my parents when there was a sudden nagging thought that before I left, I must stop to search a website I’d heard about the night before. Sure enough after searching the surname; Middlebrough I found the contact information for someone researching the same family. The names were similar, but the dates were out of sync. But after contacting the researcher who later turned out to be a cousin, I realized it was my family, but one generation further back, the namesakes for my family. Who or what pressed me to check?

Or the time I was in the Cataraqui Cemetery looking for the Batten family plot. I’d been there before but couldn’t find it. I finally came to a road, got out of the car as the feeling that they were there was so strong. I search and search but didn’t have any luck. I took some photos of some of the stones and then it started to rain so I decided I’d come back another day. The next time I came I decided I would go to the cemetery office and get directions. The lady helping me asked; which plot are you looking for because there are two? One with one person and the other with several. I told her I was looking for the one with several people, but I’d like the information about the one with one because I wasn’t aware there was one like that. She started to tell me that the plot was unmarked but it was close to a marker with the name Houston on it.  I told her; you won’t believe this but I was there, and I even took a photo of that marker. She said she wasn’t surprised as that happened quite often.  (See the photos HERE)

Some ancestors like to give tiny hints as if to hang a carrot and keep you interested only then to have the trail go cold until the next dangling carrot.

Once I had this incredible feeling that I had the answer to my brick wall problem; if only I could find it in my notes. I still believe a hint is there somewhere in the information I already have.

Some ancestors only stop by at the time of an important anniversary in their life. Stopping for a moment to give you the next installment of their story.

This was the case with Jesse Vincent; my 1st cousin 2x removed. He had fought in WWI, and despite getting shot, he had survived the war only to die on November 7, 1918, of the Spanish Flu; just four days before the end of the war. Jesse almost always gives me more information about his family every year around November 7th. The most memorable time was when I’d returned from a research trip to England and decided that I would ignore the newsletter from my local genealogy society. Finally, I decided to look at it only to find a story about Jesse Vincent. I was shocked because I was sure that I was the only person who was researching Jesse. After checking with the individual who had written the article, I found that he had been in touch with a lady in England many years ago inquiring about a man whose photo her grandmother had cherished all her life.  All she knew was Jesse had been her grandmother’s fiance, and he was from Canada and that he had died before the couple had wed.

As I said the lady had inquired many years before and the researcher no longer had her email address. After some sleuthing, I was able to find her query on the internet, and with a lot of luck, her email was still active.  From there we entered into a flurry of emails. She told me that her grandmother had always worn a locket that had two photos; one was Jesse Vincent the other was her grandfather. She was also able to send me photos of Jesse that I’d never seen before, a photo of her grandmother and a copy of a letter that my great-grandmother had written to her grandmother. This is how it goes each year; of course nothing as dramatic as the story I just told you, but I almost always learn more about Jesse around that same time of year.

Then for a time, my ancestors seem quiet, and I can go about my research. Adding bits and pieces to each of their stories until an ancestor interprets; “excuse me, I think you need to look at this. It can’t wait.

Are you listening to your ancestors?


  • Aleksandra says:

    It’s funny – I have had similar feelings about the ancestors they want to be found, they were pushing me to spend time researching even when I felt like doing something else, and that they cannot wait till they are introduced to the world on the pages on my blog. I even talked about that to my husband not long ago

  • Great post. I just watched Coco last night and this post made me think of that movie and how the ancestors want to be remembered.

  • Nice post! I love it when we can connect with others who have a shared interest in our ancestors.

  • Bettye Hull says:

    Such wonderful stories! If these don’t light a fire under any genealogist, I don’t know what will! Thanks so much for sharing, everyone!

  • Ellen, I wanted to say that this is one of your best blogs yet! Thanks for sharing.

  • Sophia Pradal says:

    Wow! What amazing stories!! Glad I’m not the only one this happens to! I’ve made a deal with my ancestors: they are not welcomed when I’m sleeping -lol-. When I turn on my computer to do research I usually say: ok who wants to be discovered today, lead the way! I always stumble upon something I wasn’t looking for. My maternal great-grandma had 16 children of which only 4 girls survived to adulthood, 1 girl died at 3yrs old and 1 boy died at 13months, the other 10 died at a few days/weeks old. The very first child was a boy named Jean Filion, he’s the only one I cannot find the baptism/burial records for… but every time I search for his info I find records for his cousins…lately, after months of search military records for my Italian grandfather and remaining empty handed, I told him, in Italian: “why can’t I find anything about you? Please help me, I just want to honour your memory and the sacrifices you made during ww2…” The next day I was cleaning my inbox and found an old unread email from the Anagrafe of his town detailing how to request the family folio/file they keep on each family!!! Grazie nonno!! Thank you grandpa!