SPEAKING AT ROOTSTECH Connect – 2021!

What an opportunity! I’ve been invited to speak about some of my favorite work – researching Indigenous Peoples. This presentation will be in THREE parts as it is about “The Big Five – Researching the Five Largest Tribes”.

Researching Indigenous Peoples can be a challenge, as much of our histories are oral tradition, stories told by skilled orators in our tribes, and lineal descendants in families who are sure to share the stories of the ancestors to the whole family at funerals or births. These beloved leaders can share from memory and long study the names and relationships of the broader tribal community. So mostly, this information hasn’t been written down – partly because it is sacred, important, cultural information that would be misinterpreted or added to by those unfamiliar with the stories and heritage. And some of the information isn’t written down in defiance – we don’t want some of our precious ancestral information shared with outsiders. And it’s not written down because .. well, that isn’t our way. And we are holding on tight to our ways.

HOWEVER there were many reasons and purposes that information WAS written down – census information, school records, military service and more. These resources and some of the cultural constructs of researching Indigenous families will be part of this course.

The session will be offered in THREE parts. RootsTech CONNECT 2021 is entirely virtual and, as such, the organizers wanted to consider good ways to utilize webinar technology while recognizing that people tend to learn best in non-live interaction in 20 minute intervals. So, because each of the five tribes is different, with different records, this session will cover these five tribes in three parts: Part 1 – Broad overview of Indigenous research generally; how to get started; what to do if you’ve been told that you have Native ancestors; how to move backward in time to look for clues, hints, cultural information that can help in finding an elusive ancestor. Part 2 – Will address the specific record sets of the two largest tribes – the Cherokee and the Cochtaw. The Cherokee are the largest tribe in the United States and the Cochtaw are third largest but both originate in the SE of the U.S. and have shared history that can help in your research. Part 3- Will cover the Navaho, Chippewa and Sioux. And, by the way, I will also offer you the names of each of these tribes in their own languages, rather than the English names (names used for them by the colonial people, settlers) that the Europeans gave them.

Interested? I hope you will join me! But in the meantime, as RootsTech is FREE – have you registered? Check in here: Registration

Watershed Moments

A “watershed moment” is a point in time in which you feel that something changed, that you changed, that life changed.

I had a moment/day like that recently. Actually it is more of a series of things that have happened. As a genealogist, there are moments in time that I recognize that I’m noting a date and it was a big deal for my ancestors. Someone died, someone was born, two people were married. There are so many of those moments as a genealogist that I honestly can say that they are dates in a computer sometimes to me … until my own “moment”.

You see … someone died. Actually there have been a series of deaths in the recent past (since my brother died in July 2013 actually) and this most recent death of a beloved “sister” has caused a shift. I put “sister” in quotation marks because, while she wasn’t a genetic sister, she was a sister of my heart … a teacher, friend, beloved leader and spiritual Elder. To me and many. And it was at her funeral and the four days of the wake and then burial ceremony, that I’ve been thinking about A LOT! Without going into all of that here, it DID make me think, as a genealogist of those “watershed moments” of my ancestors.

Perhaps it was in the mid-1860s when my Villeneuve (Amiot dit Villeneuve) ancestral family came from Maskinonge, Quebec to Marquette, Michigan area. My Elliot ancestors came from the same area to Ishpeming, Michigan in the 1880s. Then they all eventually ended up in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, in Houghton County – around Hancock and Boston Station and the mining communities. They met up there supposedly because they attended the same church. A Villeneuve girl married an Elliot boy, and an Elliot girl married a Villeneuve boy. In June, 1889 when Edward Elliot married Marie Louise Villeneuve in Ishpeming, was that a “watershed moment” for them? Did they recognize the importance of that day and the history that they would create together (they ended up having 18 kids!!!) that resulted in my grandmother? Did the day that great-grandfather Edward died in 1919, crushed by a shifting pile of coal that he was assigned to move, created that incredible “watershed moment” for great-grandmother Louise? She had a pile of children and now no husband. In the 1920 Census, she has eight children living with her. The two oldest sons are working so the family at least had an income but many of the children were very young. My grandmother, Mary Elsie Elliot had married Warner “Waino” Sutinen and was living nearby. Grandpa Warner was also a miner – I wonder if he was present when Edward was crushed … who told Great-Grandma Louise that he was severely injured (he later died of his injuries according to the newspaper account and his death certificate). Certainly, that would have been a “watershed moment” for both families.

Maybe it’s a function of the death of others that gives us “watershed moments” … it has been for me, early in this new year. Does everyone have moments like this?

April 15, 2017

Petoskey Stone

Growing up in Michigan is a unique experience. As a kid, when the snow gets melty, dirty, you just want to be somewhere else. But when you experience the glorious moments when the trillium fill the forests in spring, morel mushrooms are cooked intodelicate culinary treats and the call of the lakes, boats, warm summer days or the swish of snow during a ski run with the smell of hot chocolate or bonfires is in the air …. oh, and those trees in the fall – how DOES a maple tree have so many colors within it!! Well, I went off there a bit … but THAT is the Michigan I know.

My heritage, lineage here in Michigan isn’t that long. My people are, on dad’s side, fairly recent (late 1800s) immigrants from Poland and Germany by way of Massachusetts and then to Detroit where grandpa had a bicycle sales and repair company, and my dad and his brothers worked in the auto industry; on my mom’s side, we are VERY long on the North American continent but not so long in Michigan – my Native ancestors are mostly from the regions now called Canada and the Upper Peninsula in the 1870s, having been longer in the eastern maritimes; and mom’s ancestors who founded “New France” in their moves in the 1600s to Quebec and Montreal from northern regions of France (Normandie mostly), settling in for a long time in the area around Maskinonge, Quebec. The French-Canadians came to Michigan in the 1880s where they met my Native ancestors, ultimately my grandparents moved to Detroit for jobs after mines began closing. Mom’s dad was a Finn, coming as an infant with his parents and a brother. So we haven’t been here all that long.

But we are Michiganders. We GET Petoskey stones, pasties, Yoopers (we descend from them), Trolls (those from under the bridge – lower peninsula residents), the Mighty Mac (the Mackinac Bridge), and more. We rejoice in Morel Festivals, FlannelShirt Days, and the four seasons. Genealogy is important to me and, over the years, it has helped to inform me about who I am in the context of family, culture, spirituality and geography. Increasingly over the years, while Michigan is home, so is South Dakota (where my extended Native family are), and Quebec (where other extended family are) but so too, Eastern Canada and Normandy, France, and Scotland and Germany … well, the world actually.

Birds

I’m jealous of the birds. Reflecting on my recent readings of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, I have been working to be more conscious, aware of my surroundings, awake to what is happening with me and around me on a spiritual level. I’ve been watching for altars in my world that remind me of a higher purpose or focus.

So the birds came into focus this morning. Birds clustered on the wires, as it is cold now, and clustering themselves into groups to stay warm. A bird wouldfly up and move to another group on another wire, and the birds already on the wire would move to accommodate the new arrival. No one was fighting. All of them were just working to stay warm until the sun was up more so they could begin looking around for food.

And I thought about how the warmth of birds together on wires could be an image of people grouping together for survival too. We are a family, we humans. We are genetically linked to each other through so many generations – mathematically, we are likely 16th cousins at least and mostly closer (we are all the descendants of the survivors of so many wars, famines, immigration, floods, diseases and catastrophies) and we cluster together.

Lately, due to what I’ve been watching with the elections, we have been clustering in groups around party affiliation, race and gender, our needs/wantsfor the future and the illusions of personalities, words and actions. And I think about how the birds don’t know any of that, but just cluster with each other until it is warm enough to hunt for food. It’s simple that way for them and I think about how we humans complicate so much. I’m jealous of the birds.

The birds have no “baggage” to worry about – self-contained little bodies that they take everywhere. Yes, they have nest homes to take care of but on this morning, none of them were in those nests. They preferred to be with each other, on a high wire in the cold wind. Chattering away, they were doing what birds do – surviving.

Which led my mind to “this is an altar in my world, a place where trust and survival meet, where waiting for the sun to come up and warm the space keeps us together” and I looked around at the cars surrounding me at this stop light. These birds were the conscious ones. The humans around me weren’t even looking at or acknowledging one another but checking text messages, tuning the radio or staring straight ahead. I was jealous of the birds in that moment and the direct connection of their lives.

I think about my family, our family tree, and the people who loved each other, resulting in me being born. And I wish sometimes that we were more like the birds, gathering each morning to talk, to chat, to share before we took off for the day. We can’t even talk directly about the election and what it means to us without someone getting upset (“don’t talk about religion or politics” I’ve been told so many times!). I long for that probing discourse that permits us the honor and space of saying the deep reasons for why we voted the way we did and why we like a certain candidate or the platform items. I long to understand why the white males around my world are feeling threatened by so much and don’t even care that I have felt threatened my whole life by a society that doesn’t value “female”, let alone a society that sets up white v. black, European culture v. the rest of the world, and more. Or even how my deeply felt beliefs have been wanting expression in the broader world without being told to “get over it” or “move on” when I’ve never even said anything of my beliefs. Not. Ever. Asked.

So the birds were an altar for me this morning, reflecting a simple, direct aliveness that isn’t complicated by politics or religion or personalities or money or status. Just simply beingness ….. just manifesting what’s TRUE … not all of this human complication that we’re seeing. Sigh ….. I am jealous of the birds.

Women and Moontime

Women's Hoop

It’s truly an exciting time – having the opportunity to share with women the wonderful and empowering information about the “Moontime” or menses, bleeding time, “period” or whatever you might call the menstrual cycle. So many of us were raised in a culture that demeaned, dirtied or otherwise made this special and sacred time something negative. I’ve been blessed to have Lakota women teach me how to utilize this time to learn about and from myself, do ceremony that gives me a stronger connection to Spirit and find other women to share with in “Women’s Hoops” so that we can continue to draw from our strength.

This workshop is particularly exciting for me as I’m in the midst of daily ceremony here and some very dramatic changes happening in my life. My “star quilt” career (no, that’s not about sewing quilts!) is developing, shifting, opening and growing in ways that I never suspected or knew to even think about. And now an Elder is sharing  more with me and I’m sharing more with others.  I’m blessed … and change is coming!