52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Catching Up Part II

Again, I’m still playing catch up, so these will be short and sweet vignettes. Once I get caught up, I’ll start writing longer meditations on my ancestors again but the spring term just kicked my butt, what with the transition to online classes and a heavy course load.

Week 25 (June 17-23): Unexpected

One of the things that stood out to me, really smacked me in the face, as I was delving into my maternal line, was the number of clergy and religious rebels. It’s almost like theology and pissing people off go hand in hand in my line. Ha ha. I’m upholding the family tradition.

Just off the top of my head, there’s Rev. Alexander Underwood (1688-1767), my seventh great grandfather. He was a Quaker and instrumental in helping to build the Quaker community in PA. I had the pleasure of visiting a Quaker meeting house in Warrington, PA, that he helped to build with his own hands.  I wrote about that previously here

Boehme_Portrait_1730My favorite is my eleventh great grandfather Jakob Boehm (or Boehme), the sixteenth century Swiss mystic and theologian. Apparently, his written work was considered scandalous. He had a tremendous influence on German Romanticism, theosophy, even Hegel. He also wrote about angels, alchemy, and some of what he wrote in “De Tribus Principiis” seems to anticipate themes that we see again in the 19th and early 20th century occultists (though I’m sure he would never, ever have defined himself thusly). I had no idea what a big deal he was in early modern theology (I’m a medievalist focusing on early Christianity) until he came up in conversation with a Protestant colleague and I mentioned, ‘Oh, he’s my 11th great grandfather’ and the poor guy’s jaw hit the floor. That was kind of cool. One of the difficulties in beginning a practice of ancestor veneration is finding commonalities and points of connection with our dead. I’m no exception to that. It was immensely satisfying to find theologians in my line, even if they do belong to a religious movement that I don’t follow. They were pious and thoughtful and their devotion to their God guided their lives and I can appreciate that, and it gives me a way to                                      further my reverence and veneration of them.

Of course, I also had Mennonites, some of whom were clergy, and Hueguenots – all of whom came to this country to escape persecution in their own. I might disagree with their religious positions, but I appreciate their commitment and devotion. They were tough, stubborn, and deeply committed to living their faith. I hope I have inherited half their grit!

Week 26 (June 24-30): Middle

This one is particular difficult topic. The obvious thing to write about is middle child, but with each foremother having upwards of a dozen plus children, who constitutes the middle? Lol. Dr. Henry Gates, Jr, who hosts a popular genealogy show on PBS said once in an episode, ‘Genealogy giveth, and genealogy taketh away.” He’s so, so right. I grew up thinking that I was the eldest child in my family. Through genealogy work, I’ve discovered that I have two older sisters, one of whom I believe is deceased, and then of course I always knew I had a younger brother (we grew up together). Suddenly I went from being the eldest child, to being the middle child. Ha ha. I do not have the stereotypical temperament for a middle child. I’m definitely just a little type A. LOL

Week 27 (July 1-7): Solo

I had to stare at this week’s topic for a long time before I decided what to write. I’m still not completely satisfied with my choice because it highlights for me how much I don’t know about the ancestors on both sides of my family. I really wish I had their stories, particularly of personal challenges met and overcome. It makes me all the more grateful for those living relatives to whom I can speak, tease out their stories, and talk to them about their challenges. My aunt, LBH (she’s very private so I’m not going to use her name here) for instance. She left a small town of Conowingo when she was 18 and moved to DC to start working at the Pentagon. She worked there for forty years and loved every minute of it (except for 9/11. She was in the office that was hit. She said she’d gone out to deliver some papers and came back, saw the plane flying low and thought, “that’s way too low. Something’s wrong.” She turned on her heel and walked out and so was out of that office wing when the plane hit. Thank the Gods she trusted her gut!). But she was eighteen when she moved to Washington. That was a huge culture shock for a backwater young woman who ‘d grown up in a very poor family. She had courage. My bio mom was supposed to go with her, the plan being they’d both start working at the Pentagon but at the last minute backed out. She worked at Aberdeen Proving Ground where she met my father instead. I appreciate that courage. I remember when I moved to New York to dance. I closed the door to my shoebox of an apartment that first night thinking, “What have I done?” It’s a terrifying thing to leave everything you know behind and then the experiences you have, outside the expectations and experience of family that you left, ensure you’ll never be able to comfortably fit at home again. Maybe if one never fit really before, that’s no big deal but I imagine it was a tremendous sacrifice to some and I want those stories.  In the meantime, I honor them, doing my best by those living, and telling the stories of those dead.
Week 28 (July 8-14): Multiple

Hugh and Lucinda Shoff graveMy great grandmother (my bio mother’s maternal grandmother) Lucinda Alice Shoff (nee Heffner) had seventeen children. That included several sets of twins and at least two sets of triplets. One set was stillborn, and I grew upon land where they were buried. I know only two things about them – and I count them as honored ancestors: firstly, when they were born dead, they were named Faith, Hope, and Death (no joke. This is what my grandmother told me about her siblings). Secondly, they were buried in a corner of property that had once belonged to my grandfather but eventually was sold off. By chance, the house that I grew up in, that my parents bought when I was maybe a year old, rested on land that held the bones of these three little ancestors.

I never used to think about the hard work involved in making sure that your children reached adulthood until someone said to me (about my third great grandmother Elizabeth Runkle, nee Oberlander 1824-1900), “Oh that is amazing: she had sixteen children and they all lived to adulthood.” (I have to add that I love how she listed her profession on census records as “keeping house.” There is something quaint and yet proud about that phrasing, an acknowledgement of the essential and fundamental work that she was doing). She married at sixteen – not unusual for the time and place and in which she lived—and I am here because of her, because she kept sixteen children alive, keeping house, maintaining a farm, and raising them up right. Respect.

Elizabeth Oberlander



That’s all for now. I think, mirabile dictu, that I may be caught up so next week look for a longer account of one of my dead. If any of you are participating in this challenge, or if you just want to talk about one of your ancestors, if one of the prompts inspires you, please please feel free to so in the comments.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on July 10, 2020, in Ancestor Work, Ancestors, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’d like to do this in the near future. Right now, however, I’m dealing with issues surrounding family and the emotional baggage that comes with it. How do you cope when finding out bad information about someone you had previously loved and respected? I know everyone has their flaws but I feel a bit foolish. (I adored my grandfather and assumed he had a deep love for my grandmother. I recently found out how violent and cruel he was to her and their children. His photo has been relegated to a drawer in my shrine room for the time being.)


    • ganglerisgrove

      Senneferet, this is an excellent question — give me a day or so and Im going to write a full blog post on it. I am sure there are lots of people who have had this experience. People are complicated and there’s no reason to feel foolish about this at all. People are complicated and damaged and and and…I think taking him off your ancestor shrine right now makes perfect sense (and that may be where he stays depending on numerous factors). I would probably suggest doing an elevation for your grandma, for healing and strength. I might eventually suggest an elevation for your grandfather as well, but it usually takes awhile to get to that point. This is one of the numerous things in ancestor work that can get wrenchingly difficult — argh. workman is here for the yard. will write more in a bit


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