Sunday, May 5, 2013


     I have been giving genealogy talks and classes for a few (<ahem> let's just leave it at "a few" so that I don't show my age) years now, and I have heard many, many family stories from audience members. The ones I like best are the ghost stories. I have heard a few that sent chills down my spine. I have also heard stories of ancestors with extrasensory gifts, and tales involving family superstitions.
     Having had an Irish grandmother who had the gift of sight, and a Polish grandmother who knew how to banish evil spirits, I value these special family stories. However, I find that many people neglect to include such stories in their family history. But, even the sceptics among us must recognize the value of such stories--they are part of our families' supernatural heritage!
     I recently heard one such spooky tale from a fellow researcher. In 1930, his 78 year old ancestor John was sitting in the dining room with family members. A white mist suddenly formed around the ceiling light. Staring into the mist, John pointed at it and called out his deceased wife's name. The mist moved from the light, floated up the stairs, then disappeared. Within a few hours, John died.
     Luckily for the family, this researcher included the story in his written family history.
     Don't forget to ask family members for such "ghost stories" during your interviews. Inquire into family superstitions, also. Many of our ancestors brought spells and charms with them from their country of origin. In some families, these superstitions were woven into holiday or life event traditions. Perhaps every bride in your family wore a certain charm, or each newborn was given an incantation or blessing?
     Certain holidays bring with them special rituals and foods. New Year's Day, for instance, often involves special foods or practices meant to ensure luck, health, and prosperity in the coming year. Did your family eat certain beans? Did a dark-haired man have to be the first one through the door after the stroke of midnight?
     I watch the movie Silver Linings Playbook this past week. Robert DeNiro plays an Eagles football fan who blames compulsive superstitions for his team's wins and losses. I know plenty of sports fans with special game day rituals. Any in your family?
     I don't throw salt over my shoulder or knock on wood, but I do worry when I hear of two misfortunes or deaths, because such things happen in three's. At least, that's what my Babcia taught me!