Uncanny, I think, when the archivist hands me the old photographs. But then again, in my line of work doing family history, I have come to believe that in this work, perhaps there are no coincidences.
On the table before is s a jackpot of images related to the Ogden Stockyards. These 60-year-old albums illuminate exactly what I need to see. The Weber State University Special Collections Director says, “These literally just came in, so new they haven’t even been indexed yet. I knew you would be excited.” When I ask their origin she says, “The estate of Alice Petersen just donated them.” Alice Petersen died in 2015, but the collection arrives exactly when they can help tell the stockyard story.
Happenstance following an intense prayer I said a few days earlier: “If there are people’s stories that should be told right now, then please help them come my way. I could use some help in this work.” My prayer came from a place of feeling that the project was important, and I wanted to do it justice.
Other perfectly good explanations?
To be clear, I do believe there are coincidences in life, random accidents that don’t have a deeper meaning. As a thinking person, I must consider that good fortune like this could be the result of possibilities wholly unrelated to my prayer. As in:
- Mere coincidence or dumb luck, if you will
- Hard work paying off
- The power of paying attention
I cannot argue that sometimes we search for (and find) connections where none may exist. I have a healthy respect for the above three points. Perhaps to a fault, because my own pride too often propels me to muscle through problems with brute force without asking for help from anybody. I’ve got to believe God has more important concerns than my trivialities. But when the archivist handed me those photos, it felt like something other-worldly going on.
Again and again, when I’m desperate enough to ask for help, it arrives more beautifully and with less effort than I imagined possible. True, landing upon answers can be a direct blessing of mindfulness. Still, as a person of faith, I suspect that I risk ingratitude (and ticking off cosmic forces) if I did not acknowledge this. I said words out loud in a prayer asking for help, and days later a whole batch of incredibly useful photos fell from the sky and onto my desk. Maybe it is really is true that there are no coincidences.
Sheri Dew said, “I think there is more help available to us than we realize”
This experiment with prayer followed something Sheri Dew told us at RootsTech. She believes that departed loved ones are ready and able to help us.
“Man, I think that is so real…I think there is more help available to us than we realize, and we just need to ask. Ask. Have faith. Believe. And sometimes, I’m asking for specific people to come…”
Here is the video clip:
Her words touch me. Power, right there. So in this instance, I try it. I ask for help, and I put my spiritual energy into love for individuals on the other side who have stories that might be unearthed. I want these people to know I am thinking of them, regardless of whether I know them yet. Also I need some help. It is a palpable, tingly feeling when I say the words. (By the way, it occurs to me Dew has a new book coming out called Worth the Wrestle, and this is a perfect example of a lifelong wrestle my own. Pride keeps me from asking for help, but becoming humble and open enough to ask and receive is, indeed, “worth the wrestle.”)
Do the Ancestors want to be known?
Here is a second idea that interweaves with prayer: Is it possible that ancestors want to be known to us? Is this one reason that religious traditions around the world have ceremonies and rites for the dead? This idea really jumps out in the new animated film Coco. If you haven’t seen it, go!
The more I do the work of telling family stories, the more I feel the answer is “yes,” our ancestors want to be remembered. I also believe that there are important reasons for it. Stories bind generations and help children understand that they are part of something greater than themselves. Stories are how we pass our values to the next generation. There is great power in story.
Stories are also the only way we will be remembered. I now believe that the ancestors do want to be remembered, and that perhaps there are no coincidences in the way they get our attention.
Her story awakens me at 3 am – coincidence?
A few days after the photo incident, it’s Saturday and I am on the phone with my brother Matthew. We get talking about our recent genealogy finds, and he mentions that he came across an intriguing story. One of our ancestral relatives adopted a Native American baby. Matthew tells me this brief and somewhat random tidbit, and then our conversation turns to other topics.
That night, at around 3 a.m., I wake up and can’t sleep. This is unusual for me so rather than lying there, I get out of bed. In the wee hours I feel at leisure to clear paperwork from my desk so I peruse the winter edition of the Utah Genealogical Society newsletter, piled there from January. Skim, skim, skim.
Then an article catches my eye, “Adoption of Indian Children by Mormon Pioneers, by Joan E. Healey, AG.” I read it and find it to be an interesting overview, although nothing specific jumps out at me. Since it relates to Matthew’s comment, though, I email it to him with a quick note: “I thought I’d forward in light of our conversation yesterday.”
A few hours later, Matthew emails me back and says, “Very interesting, Rhonda. Look at the last full paragraph on page two. The Indian girl, Waddie, is the exact girl I was reading about and mentioned to you.” The hairs on my arm prickle, as though I was awakened at 3 a.m. to find this story. As though the story wants to be known.
Turns out, it intertwines with another uncanny discovery by my brother Matthew. Waddie (renamed Nellie) was ultimately adopted by Deborah Lamoreaux Leithead and her husband James Leithead. Deborah’s maiden name is L’Amoreaux, a family line that Matthew has come to love recently. He began tracking it down, and was delighted to discover that our L’Amoreaux ancestor hailed from a part of Canada where he does a lot of business. So on a recent trip, Matthew located a park associated with our ancestor and when he went there, found more than expected: a tall stone monument erected to honor our sixth great-grandfather and the community he founded. In the church next door, the ladies treated my brother, a direct descendant, like a celebrity.
The really uncanny part? Matthew has been staying on our ancestor’s homeland land for years
Want to know the really weird part? That park, church, and monument are in the very same place where Matthew always stays when he is in town. Has for years. That land is our ancestral home.
Is it possible we feel drawn—for reasons we do not understand—to the power of places where our families once lived? That pin-prickly feeling again when I think of it.
Back to Nellie (Waddie). As I process all of this, I wonder if it is pure coincidence, or does she want to be remembered?
I feel a sense of awe, and decide to dig deeper. When I read the story of Nellie, her adoptive parents and her dear husband, it touches me in a profound way. But what to do with it? Well, since telling people’s stories is what I do, I want to tell about her beautiful life and family. I chronicle the life of Nellie, her dear husband Daniel and posterity in this article. Check it out, you won’t be sorry.
Beyond learning about Nellie, I am also curious if there are other reasons for me to find this information. Is there anything more to discover? I want to be sure, so I spend (probably too much) time reading related accounts on FamilySearch. I am rewarded for the effort by learning that this story weaves with the lives of my direct ancestors far more than I could have anticipated. My own ancestors make cameo appearances throughout Nellie’s story. I won’t bore you with details of my own family lines, but it feels like there is something more going on here. These discoveries touch me deeply.
This whole rabbit trail started with a prayer for help, and almost immediately, these coincidences showed up and blew me away. As Sheri Dew put it, “Man, I think that is so real.”Unexpected blessings by remembering those who came before
In my life right now, I am experiencing so many blessings that I didn’t expect by knowing and remembering those who have come before. I feel peace through these roots and power when the places of our ancestors beckon us, anchoring me to something bigger than my daily concerns.
Rather than this feeling like work, it is the most profound privilege. I look forward to seeing where fresh details lead me every new day. I have a feeling this is not done yet and I can’t wait to see how the pieces fit. I am often a skeptic but more and more, I sense that there are no coincidences.
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Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments.
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