Category Archives: Ancestor Work

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Quick and Dirty Catching up! (Week 11 [luck] and Week 12 [popular] and Week 13 [Nearly Forgotten])

I’ve been swamped with school work the past couple of weeks, especially as our university transitioned all our courses to online, stay-at-home learning. They were prepared and the transition went smoothly, even for a luddite like me, but it was still a lot to handle in addition, of course, to preparing for the whole shelter-in-place for the next couple of weeks. It’s only now that I have a chance to sit down and catch up. So without further ado, let’s get started. These may be a bit short and to the point, but that’s better than nothing!

Week 11: Luck

I don’t actually associate luck with my family. I know we have it, we’re survivors but when I think of luck, I think of great success or fame or fortune and that’s not my family. They were, depending on which line one explores, lower landed gentry, peasant farmers, craftsmen, or clergy. We’re still here though so I guess that counts for something!

Actually, if I had to say who was lucky in my family, I’d say myself. Even through the most grueling moments in my life, the darkest and roughest, there’s been a glimmer, a lifeline. The Gods provide. I’m grateful for that and maybe I need to recognize it a bit more often. I’m lucky.

Week 12: Popular

Well, they’re not my blood ancestors obviously, but they are a family of spirits that I honor with deep love and affection so what the hell. For popularity, you can’t get more popular than the family of spirits I term my ‘masked ones’: the castrati and also the various ballet dancers that I honor (the latter because I was a ballet dancer, that is my professional lineage, and these were the men and women who inspired me when I worked in that field). Men like Carestini, Cafarelli, Senesino, Atto Melani and women like Marie Salle, Olga Spessivtseva, Marie Taglioni, et al. Now I do have one opera singer in my line (my maternal great grandmother) and one pianist (my adopted mom) but none strove for a career like these luminaries. I’m grateful for what I know of their struggles and trials and it is their popularity and success that has carried those stories down to us now.

Week 13: Nearly Forgotten

I’ll tell the story of the death of my third great grandfather William Seymour Baldwin (1823-1864). He lived in Hardy County, West Virginia and died there too on October 16. I received the story from a distant cousin, who himself is an avid and skilled genealogist. It was taken from a family bible belonging to the Pratt family, from a record written by S.Y. Simmons, Esq. in 1896. If it hadn’t been for my distant cousin being willing to share this information, or for S.E. sharing it with him, this story would have been lost to my family. Here we go:

 
“”Issac Pratt was killed on Walker’s Ridge while in pursuit of his horse, by some roughs who had formed themselves into a company in the late war. He was unarmed and they took him prisoner.” S.Y. Simmons says “Seymour Baldwin was with him and was killed also. I sent for them and had them brought home and buried in Snodgrass Cemetery.” According to older Pratt family members living in WV a man by the name of Klein was believed to be responsible for these deaths.”

According to a story told in West Virginia –When a man by the name of Klein and his family moved into the area many, many years later, the Pratts living nearby made his life so miserable that he and his family moved in three days. The older Pratt members living in that area still have no use for the Kleins. Received from S.E., Moorefield, WV.”

So, my three times great grandfather was killed by a band of roving thugs while helping his friend retrieve a stolen horse. No good deed goes unpunished, apparently.

There’s a lot left unsaid in the description. Was Seymour armed (one would hope that when going to retrieve stolen property, one would take a rifle at the very least)? How were they killed (beaten? Shot? Stabbed?)? Was Seymour ex-military? If you’ll note, the Civil War had just ended when all this happened. It wasn’t uncommon for (often run-away) southern soldiers to form small criminal bands. We can tell from the story that Seymour wasn’t part of such a band but did he himself have military service? Had he just returned from war? So much left to research!

Maybe one day I’ll get to visit his grave.

Question from a Reader: Joining Organizations like the DAR?

Ms. Krasskova,

Because of your past writing on ancestor work, I have a question if you are willing to share your thoughts. Generally, I’m wondering if you have any opinions about organizations like Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters/Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, etc., and the role they play in mediating our relationship with our Ancestors on a broad, national scale. And because my initial experiences with DAR in particular have shown the organization to have strong monotheist underpinnings, I am wondering if you have any general advice about how to navigate being a polytheist in those kind of organizations.

For context, in my personal ancestor work and my genealogical research, I came across documentation of several ancestors who participated in the American Revolution, which qualifies me for DAR membership. One would hope that an organization like DAR would provide access to a local community of people who value honoring their ancestors and preserving their local history. Unfortunately, although these sorts of organizations have done a lot of good for our Dead, they have been (in the past) outright racist and (in the present day) monotheist at best, aggressively Protestant at worst–to name just a few problems. Suffice it to say that I can’t, in good conscience, participate in the opening prayers of every DAR meeting because of their monotheist language.

In an ideal world, I think that such organizations could do some of the heavy lifting for the ancestral healing that American culture needs, as part of their service work. But in the world as it exists, do you think it’s worth trying to participate in these organizations as a polytheist? Is the desire to honor ancestors and preserve local history enough common ground to put up with monotheistic assumptions?

Thanks,

P. Anon.

 

HI P. Anon,

This is a very, very good question, especially since genealogy work is one of the most concrete practices within the umbrella of ancestor work and also where many of us begin. I’ve also found myself in the same situation, having a direct maternal ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War and thus being eligible for membership in the DAR. For me, I’ve never been able to make myself do the paperwork and really, what they represent is just not part of my personal identity, and having learned about this particular ancestor’s military work has been enough for me. Still, there are benefits to joining such organizations including scholarships and access to research archives. That being said, the concerns you bring up are absolutely valid and one of the reasons that I’ve always dragged my feet when it came to filling out that paperwork.

Here’s the thing though: you can challenge those monotheistic assumptions. You can do it gently, persistently, and by your very presence. You don’t have to ‘put up with’ them necessarily. Just pick your battles. You will most likely be the first polytheist that any of these women have met. It is likely to be completely outside of their idea of what is possible in the world. Your patience may be tested.

The fact remains that while organizations like this can and quite probably should be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to ancestral healing in this country, they are not, and in some instances, re-instantiate the very patterns that need to be challenged if healing is to occur. That isn’t going to change unless and until ancestor workers and those who are deeply committed to understanding the truth of their ancestors’ lives and experiences step into these spaces and do what it is their ancestors call for them to do and that can be uncomfortable (on both sides) and difficult (also on both sides).

As to the monotheistic prayers, I would address that in two ways. Ancestor work is a two-way street: it’s those of us living and those who are dead. Some of those dead were Christians, probably the majority (or Jewish, or Muslim). It’s ok to allow prayers to be said that they will recognize. You may not be able to participate in them licitly (I know that for the most part, I could not since many praise that particular Deity as the only one or the highest one, or make claims of allegiance that conflict with my loyalty to my own Gods). At the same time, it does not hurt these organizations to realize that there are those among them (likely among the specific groups of dead too) for whom that may  not be the case. When opportunity arises, gently but persistently suggest other prayers. Point out that when the only prayers are constantly monotheistic in tone, it excludes you and possibly others from participating. There are delicate ways to push the issue. Each group is different so get to know the people in charge and once they understand who you are and their intentions, gently introduce the idea of using more inclusive, or different prayers. Many don’t want to be exclusionary, it’s just they’ve never encountered someone who isn’t them.

But in the end, you don’t need to join these organizations to honor those particular groups of dead. Depending on your ancestry, it might be contra-indicated – the goals of one group may show disrespect to the other group. It really depends. There’s no one pat answer to any of this, like so much in ancestor veneration. What do they want (easily discovered via divination), what do you want? (For instance, if I had a child I might be more intent on joining the DAR because they do have scholarships that would help that child go to college. Things like this can be negotiated. Things like this, like life, like engaging with the ancestors, like so many other things are complicated. Always). One thing you may take on if you choose to join organizations like the DAR is helping them to realize the healing and service work that they can be doing. It’s likely to be an uphill battle but it is a worthy one.

Then of course, there are genealogical organizations that are non-partisan, but exist solely to help and encourage its members in good, solid genealogical research. Those are uncomplicated and actually really helpful (I particularly recommend the National Genealogical Society and their online classes). Also, be kind to your living history people. Those who are engaging in living history work, public history are giving voice to the dead. They’re doing sacred work. Be kind to them and find ways to support what they’re doing.

Thank you for a very though-provoking question.

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 10 (Strong woman)

When this prompt came up, I knew immediately about whom I would write: my adopted mom Fuensanta Arismendi Plaza (1950-2010). She formed me, healed me, loved me, and sustained me in ways large and small for the all too brief time that she was in my life (up to and including formally/legally adopting me). She was my miracle mother and it’s actually because of her that I was able to eventually make peace with my bio-mother. It’s because of her that I became a human being, that I learned to move in the world, that I gained enough footing to be able to reach out to give others a boost up too. Like some soul deep kintsugi, she carefully put me back together, smoothing out or maybe honing my roughest edges, and breathing life and color and brightness into a life I’d long thought dismal and grey.

We began our friendship, which quickly morphed into a mother-daughter relationship (that’s just how it was, a blessing) in 2004. She had read a poem that I wrote that was included in an anthology and wrote to the publisher who eventually forwarded the letter to me. Her handwriting was so beautiful that I was almost afraid to open the letter. Her regular, every day writing looked like medieval calligraphy! (no joke). The letter itself asked about other things I had written and my theological perspective on a particular issue within our religious community (I’m a theologian) and of course I wrote back, sending her a few pieces. Things blossomed very, very quickly and within the year we’d met in person. I have binders, at least a dozen, of hand written letters that she wrote me and after she died (in 2010), I inherited her binders of my letters too. Even though we were visiting in person all the time, traveling together, and talking on the phone several times a day, we still maintained a lively written correspondence. She was the single most devout person I have ever known. She’s actually venerated as a saint in (at least) two religious traditions.

There’s the famous verse from Corinthians, “love is patient, love is kind,” to which I would add, love rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. I owe my life to this woman, just as much as if she’d given birth to me. She rescued my heart and soul from a profound despair and darkness and …she was my mom. I miss her every day. I won’t say much about her life because she herself was very private and would not have liked it. She was Swiss, attended the music conservatory in Basel, absolutely could not sing lol, taught piano for decades, spoke eight languages fluently, and read at least one more, loved animals, was an avid gardener, and had a calling to contemplative devotion that I flatly envy. She quite simply loved her Gods. They were her reason for being. I think the burden of living, what she once called the pain of the world, was very, very hard for her, but she bore it with dignity doing what she could when she could in order to make it better. I had been a priest for over a decade when we met but she taught me how to pray. She taught me what it meant to be devout. She taught me that integrity and devotion were both choices that we make again and again and again each day of our lives. She taught me the grace of endurance. For all of this and more, I am grateful. Her soul was a star held aloft in the hands of the Gods and its brightness continues to guide me daily. More I shall leave to those who knew her.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 8 (disaster)

I’ve put off writing about this because it’s such an ugly story and had such terrible consequences for my grandfather, and by extension his children, and by further extension me. I will preface this by saying that I respect my ancestors. They were imperfect, often wounded human beings, flailing about in the anguish of their humanity. I get that. I don’t judge them, or at the very least I try hard not to do so. I am no better when I am in pain. That being said, brace yourselves.

I don’t know very much about my great great grandmother Edna Baldwin. She was an opera singer, played the piano (I’ve been told both professionally in Baltimore) but she was a cypher. I know she had a vicious temper (hey grandma, me too), was very volatile, and tried to hide her background. I’ve found outright lies on her children’s birth certificates about where she was born. It reads like she is trying to hide her origins and I have no idea why (suspicions, but no clear proof). Her marriage (if they were actually married…) to my great grandfather Perry Barnes Hanna was passionate, violent (on both sides), and short lived. He had a penchant for alcohol and both for physical violence and she for the latter (she went after him with a knife once, and family stories point to both of them being equally ill-matched) She apparently had two children with him, my grandfather Roland Isaac Hanna and his older brother Van.

When Roland was six and Van nine, Edna took them to a local park. She told her sons that they should wait a moment and she’d be right back. Then, with no explanation, she left. She never came back. Both boys were adopted out to separate families. Roland was used as farm labor, living in conditions close to brutal, indentured servitude. He was brilliant – and since I’m sure I’ll talk about him later during this project, I won’t go into too much detail about him now save to say that this destroyed him. I don’t think he ever recovered emotionally. Later, as a teenager, he sought out his mother and showed up at her door. When she answered, he told her, “I’m your son, Roland.” She closed the door on him with the words, “I have no son Roland.” While Van detested her, Roland never stopped trying to win her love.

That one act: her abandonment of her children, damaged three generations. Roland grew up into a harsh man, a brilliant polymath married to a woman who could no way match him intellectually (my grandmother, was a very devout woman, but they were not well matched intellectually in any way, shape, or form). He was so abusive to his wife and children, that one uncle told me, “Every night he’d beat us with a coal shovel until we pissed or bled” and my aunt remembers her deep fear coming home from school every day, wondering if they’d find their mother dead on the floor. My bio-mother was his least favorite child and he was the harshest with her. This left her cold, contemptuous, depressed, and angry. She was not physically abusive, but she was unloving, emotionally abusive, and mean (to me, not to my brother – he thinks she was the most amazing mother in the world and it’s a point of contention between us that I don’t agree. I do think that she did the absolute best she could and for that, she has my respect).  I was blessed to have an adopted mom, and to have made peace with my bio-mom before she died. I understand why she was as she was: it was a deep, deep pain and sense of being unloved. Her father and mother divorced in the 50s and before he died in the 90s, he tried to make peace with her, but she was having none of it. The wounds were still too fresh. He destroyed her trust in the world and her ability to believe herself worthy of happiness, as his has been destroyed the day his mother left him in the park.

Years ago, I remember standing in front of my ancestor shrine and meditating on Edna Baldwin and I said aloud, “I just don’t understand your choice” (i.e. to abandon her children). Clear as a bell ringing through my mind and heart I heard her voice, “You assume I had one” (a choice.). I pray for them all, honoring them amongst my dead, doing regular elevations. There are stories there that I do not know and pain I cannot fully understand and my job is to hold it, honor them, and do what I can by way of our ancestral techniques (like elevation, story-telling, prayer, etc.) to heal what I am able to heal, for the living and the dead.

Hurt and pain echoe through generations continuing to do their damage. Nothing goes away. It must be faced, acknowledged, wrestled with, dealt with, and ultimately – hopefully with the grace of our Gods – healed. Disasters happen but I think we are made, forged and honed in how we meet them. We happen too, we become, even in the midst of generations of ancestral pain and that is an opening for the glory of our Gods.

Honor your Dead. Why does this even have to be said?

This is an excellent article. Not only can those of us coming from European ancestries reclaim our ancestral roots, we must. I think it is crucial, holy work. To say that because one is [insert skin color here] that one should not honor one’s dead, work to peel back the layers (good and bad) and reclaim pre-Christian traditions is frankly, bullshit. It’s hateful, it’s destructive, and it’s prolonging the very systematic types of abuses such nay sayers think they’re trying to stop. 

We are called as polytheists to honor our dead, to take up the obligation of cleaning up our ancestral debts, to heal those of our ancestors who are damaged, and to recognize that we are the culmination of our ancestral lines walking, with everything that entails. We are called to speak for the dead. We are not separate from these people and they call out to us to right the wrongs that tore them away from their tribal consciousness, that destroyed their traditions, that corrupted and damaged the way they and their descendants engaged with the world and with others in it. 

Yes, we have to reclaim and those who say that there’s nothing to reclaim are speaking from a place of emptiness, of nothingness, of base ignorance. We have to reclaim, restore, and nourish because we owe it to our dead to step up and to stay the course despite the nonsense to which the post above was responding. 

 

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 8 (Prosperity)

When this topic came up in the genealogy challenge, I immediately thought of my maternal third great grandmother Rachel Bobo. She was born in 1824 and died 1908 having spent her entire life (as far as I can tell) in Hardy County, West Virginia. She married a farmer, William Seymour Baldwin (1823-1864) in 1839 and they had a passel of children including my great great grandfather Isaac Hamilton Baldwin.

RachelBoboBaldwin copy

(yes, the birth date is off on the photo – welcome to genealogy)

The first time I saw her last name, I was amused so of course, I had to research it even further. It’s a French name that can also be spelled Beaubeau, Baubeau, or Bobeau – keeping in mind that there was no standardization with the spelling of names until well into the early 20thcentury). Turns out, Rachel is descended from Gabriel Bobo, an Huguenot immigrant to VA c. 1681. Originally from St. Sauvant, he was fleeing religious persecution in Catholic France. The Edict of Nantes, issued in 1598 had given Huguenots the right to practice their faith free of persecution but this was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 leading to government sanctioned persecution, pressure to convert to Catholicism, imprisonment, and violence. Many Huguenots fled to Britain and Denmark (and some, eventually to the American Colonies). I was surprised to learn that they had a reputation for being fine craftsmen of various sorts, though I can’t tell if that was also the case with Rachel’s family. I do know she was tough and you can see it in her face too. My impression from her photo and the stories that I have of her is that this is a woman possessed of grit.

Rachel’s Grandfather, Leonard Ludwick fought in the Revolutionary war and I’m amused by the names she chose to give some of her children: Andrew Jackson Baldwin, Isaac Hamilton Baldwin, etc. Obviously, this was a generation proud to be part of the new America. It doesn’t seem like she or her husband were literate but they sure made certain that their children were. Her son Isaac, my second great grandfather was a mechanic, and his daughter was, at least for part of her life, an opera singer.  One can see an upward educational trend.

It may seem strange to write about Rachel on a week focused on “prosperity,” but she and her husband worked hard and it’s clear that they did so in order to give their children something better than they themselves had. I wonder what the word “prosperity” meant to her and I very much wonder what I can learn from how she lived her life and her values.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 7 (Favorite Discovery)

This is a hard one because each time I learn something new about my ancestral lines, I get excited. Each discovery is my favorite one. That being said, I think the thing that I’ve been focusing on recently the most, that just tickles me pink, lol, is something I’ve mentioned before; namely, that my 11thgreat grandfather is Jakob Boehme, seventeenth century theologian, mystic philosopher, and gadfly to the establishment.

Boehme_Portrait_1730

Given that I myself am a theologian, I like knowing that I’m carrying on a family tradition: pushing the boundaries within my religious community. Boehme is not the only clergy person or theologian in my maternal line, but he’s the one that I found the most surprising.

For more info on him, see the wiki article here.

For you, my readers, for those of you who’ve done genealogical work as part of your ancestor practice, what has been your favorite discovery?

52 Ancestors 52 Weeks – Week 6 (Same Name)

I actually don’t have any ancestors that I know of who share my first name. I was, however, very nearly named Ursula after my paternal grandmother, so I’ll share her story this week. (I think I would have liked sharing her name as an adult—it means “little bear”—but I’m not sure I’d have been overly thrilled with it as a child).

lith fam

(Ursula and Karl with their children Julia and John)

Ursula Blasis was born in 1888 in Kurliu, Lithuania (though unlike her husband Karolys, she listed “Russian” rather than “Lithuanian” on her immigration forms, making me wonder if one of her parents was Russian – I haven’t been able to find out anything about them yet) and immigrated to the US in 1910. She had three children: my aunt Julia (1912-1999), my dad John (1917-2005), and my uncle Joseph (1921-2011).

She was married to Karalys (or Karl) Dabravalskas (1882-1973), a dairy farmer and carpenter. This is the story that my dad told me of their courtship. Apparently, Karl was originally betrothed to Ursula’s older sister. My impression from what my dad told me was that this was, more or less, an arranged marriage. So, Karalys immigrated to the US, settled in Albany, NY and got himself settled and set up and then sent for his bride to be. She, however, decided she didn’t want to leave Lithuania so without telling him beforehand sent her younger sister Ursula over. Once she was here, in those days, one couldn’t just send her back so they married and that was that.

While I didn’t know my grandfather (he died when I was less than a year old), I do have memories of my grandmother. She was birdlike and thin, spoke very little English, and was very affectionate. She scared me as a child – she always wanted to hold and pet me but even as a child I wasn’t much for being crowded and as a very small child I thought she was Baba Yaga! Now I wish that I had had the opportunity to know her when I was just a bit older. I think she was very tough and very brave.

She is buried in Albany and I visit her grave regularly (as well as that of her husband, my aunt Julia, and her husband Kurt Wagner). It’s probably time I visit again. It’s been awhile…

Dabravalskas

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 5 (So Far Away)

This week, I want to talk about a group of men that I honor as ancestors, even though they never had physical children. For years now, I have honored the baroque castrati as a group of honored dead on my ancestor shrine. I love them, I truly do and they’ve become an integral part of my spiritual practice of honoring the dead.

Music has always been an important part of my life. I spent the first quarter of my life as a professional ballet dancer (retired in my early twenties due to injury). That was the first way by which I was introduced to ecstatic spirituality. It was the first way I ever touched the sacred. It’s an art intimately connected to that of music. One of the first really famous ballet dancers, Marie Salle, who was herself a gifted choreographer, worked with Handel and his castrati in London. Ballet and opera evolved one from the other. There’s a lineage there and in a very small way, I was part of that. Even now, when I listen to music it takes me out of myself and brings me to a place where I throw myself far more deeply into holy work. It’s a visceral, full body experience. It roars through my blood and then carries me to the spirits and worlds I seek. It was from the castrati that I really came to understand what an important journey maker music has always been for me. Now I use it consciously in my work and often under their auspices. I am grateful.

Anyway, for those who may not know – since I do have a number of new readers –the castrati were singers, first in church choirs and then in the opera, who were castrated before puberty to preserve their voices. So, they were adult men with the chest and lung capacity of adult men, but the vocal chords of prepubescent boys. They were sopranos, mezzos (both classed as “soprano” in their day) and altos and their voices were ethereal wonders. We don’t know exactly what they sounded like. There is a recording of the very last famous castrato, but he was well past his prime during the recording, had never been an operatic virtuoso, and turn of the century recording technology lacked the capacity for recording the fullness of his voice. What we get is warped and thin. The same thing occurs with female opera singers who were recorded in the first decade of the 1900s too. All we really have are descriptions from those who heard these men. They were the rock stars of their day. One woman, upon hearing the famous castrato Farinelli sing was moved to such ecstasies by the sound that she burst out with an enthusiastic, if slightly blasphemous, “one God, one Farinelli!”

Now, we usually think of the castrati as belonging to the the baroque era but they worked roughly through the 16th to 19th centuries. In reality, even longer — the first castrated singer that I’ve encountered (thanks to the work of scholar Neil Moran) is the 5th century Brisson, who was choir master in the Byzantine court of Empress Eudoxia. We know that the Byzantines had castrati in their choirs though there is no indication of an industry that castrated boys purely for their vocal potential. That comes later in the 16th century in the Vatican states where women were forbidden from performing on stage (because of a prohibition in Paul). The last well-known castrato was A. Moreschi who died in 1922. He’s the one who was recorded. Today, their repertoire, which created opera as we know it, is usually performed by women or counter-tenors. I prefer the latter (I like lower female voices, probably because I’m a tenor myself and higher male voices. Female sopranos tend to annoy me—the quality of the sound is different from a man singing in the same range. I’d rather listen to a female contralto but in the end, I’m glad for all the vocal instruments we have). By the way, that Byzantine choir master Brisson was a bad ass. He is recorded (by the 6th c. historian Socrates) as getting into fist fights with religious heretics lol.

Anyway, I consider these men, men like Atto Melani, Cafarelli, Carestini, and Senesino to be part of my ancestral house. I honor them regularly. They have immortality like the heroes of old, and it is up to those of us who recognize the beauty and sacrality in what they did to serve the function of progeny: that of remembering those who came before us. So, I hail them, regularly and very soon, I will complete a small novena book for them too. I will conclude this with one of the prayers I give them. May they always be remembered, valued, and praised – both those who were famous, and those who broke in the process.

Prayer for the castrati
By Galina Krasskova

Your predecessors haunted the courts and choirs of Constantinople.
The enchantment of your voices was heard from Italy to Spain,
England to Germany, and well beyond even to farthest Russia.
The ghostly memory of your glory haunts every operatic stage,
everywhere in the world today and that is good. We should not forget.
We should never forget the debt our artists owe to each of you,
with every voice lifted in song, every note resonant in modern throats.

You rose up from the ashes of Rome,
glittering jewels in the crown of the world,
bright, hard, glorious, unbreakable.
You shone like the sun
with the glory of the moon at your backs:
magic, allure, erotic power.
Your voices tore open the heavens
and left frenzied desire in their wake.
No king was ever more feted.
No saint ever more reverenced.

Let us taste anew that frenzy–
pouring ourselves out in offerings to you.
White, cold and unyielding,
beautiful angels,
with hearts hungry
and less than angelic,
each of your voices a blade,
inviting longing, revealing desire,
leaving ecstasy in its wake.

I praise you today and every day.
Your names sanctify my lips.

(from the forthcoming “Viva ‘il coltello: In Honor of the castrati” by G. Krasskova, Sanngetall Press).

The closest we can get is the modern counter tenor. Here are three of my favorites.

Andreas Scholl singing Bizet’s “Habanera” (he’s known for his interpretation of Bach and his voice is exactly the same vocal range as the castrato Senesino. He also went to the same conservatory in Basel as my adopted mom. I just get a kick out of him singing “Carmen” so I chose that one instead of Bach).

Michael Maniaci singing Mozart’s “Exsultate” (written for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini).

Philippe Jaroussky singing Gluck’s “Che faro senza Euridice” (originally sung by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni).

Jakub Jozef Orlinski singing Hasse’s “Mea tormenta, properate!”

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 4 (Close to Home)

I grew up amongst my maternal kin. Rather, I should say, I grew up amongst the Shoff and Heffner descendants. There wasn’t much awareness of continuity or genealogy in the immediate family – for instance I was in my forties before I realized my great grandfather and great-great grandmother were buried not 20 minutes from my childhood home—and with one exception, my maternal grandmother’s children seem to want to cut themselves off from their heritage. There’s something emotionally unsettled and rootless in them, a brittleness that I put down to that conscious abrogation of their ancestry. I could speculate on why they feel that way, but that’s not where I want to go in this post. Rather I’d like to focus on connection.

There is a cemetery, St. Luke’s Evangelical Lutheran in Chanceford Twnship, PA where I am related to 98% of the inhabitants and if I looked closely enough, I could probably find connections to the remaining 2% as well. So many of my direct descendants are there. Visiting was overwhelming. I’ve been to cemeteries before where I had one or two relatives buried but never six+ generations of my maternal line! It was one of the richest and yet most disorienting moments I’ve ever had in my genealogy work! I sank down in the grass in front of my great, great, great grandparents’ (Elizabeth Oberlander and Jesse Runkle) stones and it felt like a homecoming. I wanted to stay there for hours and hours.

My friend MAG was with me (she took the picture of the cemetery shown here) and helped me to stay focused. She’s a good handler lol! It was blistering hot and all I could think of was finding relatives but she made sure I stayed hydrated and kept an eye on me as I staggered from grave to grave. She was a trooper too. When we started out, we knew the cemetery was off route 425 but not the exact address. When we found it after about an hour of driving around, the sense of “this one is mine” was so strong it knocked the breath out of me. (I found this page, by a librarian and genealogist talking about the cemetery for those interested). 

My third great grandparents are there, second great grandparents, my second cousin twice removed who died in WWI, his parents, assorted Revolutionary and Civil War dead to whom I’m related. There’s a list of the burials MAG found as I was staggering through the cemetery and when I started reading through it, I think all I could say over and over was ‘Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods. Oh my Gods.” Shoffs, Runkles, Oberlanders, Heffners, Smeltzers oh my. (Even as I typed this up I went off on a genealogical expedition through cemetery records. I had to stop myself lol).

Not belonging to an Abrahamic religion, I often ponder the fact that we have no universal “holy land” comparable to what Jerusalem is for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. One could say that all land is holy to us but that, I think, is a cop out. This cemetery is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a place that felt holy on an inter-generational level, on a deeply sacred level and it was a joy.

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