Friday, September 25, 2015

Going back again for the first time

Chartley Castle, Staffordshire
© 2015 Christy K Robinson

I’ve noticed that when Americans and Canadians travel to the countries where most of their ancestors lived, we try to express the gut feeling of when we set foot there for the first time. We may be out on the airport tarmac sniffing jet exhaust, or riding an air-conditioned tour bus across the countryside, stepping out of a car and catching the scent of flowers and mowed hay, or standing on the deck of a ferry in the Irish Sea, but we smell “home.” We feel “home.” It’s a visceral tie to the land.

We may have read classic literature, mined the internet, or seen films and documentaries of the place, and dreamed of visiting there. But when we actually arrive, it’s a feeling that’s difficult to describe: peace, adventure, accelerated heartbeat, some psychic feeling that you are where you belong, or that you’re grafted back into the vine.

Maybe it’s a psychological reaction. Maybe it’s biological. Maybe it’s just a dream coming true. Maybe it’s an inherited memory, which scientists are saying can happen because our ancestors had a traumatizing event that changed their DNA.

Or maybe it’s a germ.

"A strain of bacterium in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been found to trigger the release of serotonin, which in turn elevates mood and decreases anxiety. And on top of that, this little bacterium has been found to improve cognitive function and possibly even treat cancer and other diseases." http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/01/its-in-the-dirt-bacteria-in-soil-makes-us-happier-smarter/

"Cooks have another word for it. "Terroir" is what makes a loaf of sourdough from San Francisco taste so different from its cousin in Bordeaux. The regional microbes, in the soil and air, impart their particular notes to the bread. You can taste terroir in your wine, your cheese, and even your chocolate -- all of which are produced with the help of specialized bacteria [Mycobacterium vaccae] that can vary from town to town." http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/01/how-to-get-high-on-soil/251935/

Myobacterium vaccae doesn't exactly relate to the "vacay" you took to visit the ancestral stomping grounds. The vaccae refers to cow pats in which it was first discovered. But it's a microbe that lives in soil where we live, and where our ancestors lived. Scientists are studying it because it can positively affect our physical and mental health. http://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/01/05/study-linking-beneficial-bacteria-mental-health-makes-top-10-list-brain-research

It’s not about real estate, or a pin on a Google or TripAdvisor map. What we feel is something that doesn’t change because of an earth mover cutting down a hill, or a nuclear power plant taking over the farms where our ancestors grew wheat or apples. When we stand on the grassy floor of a ruined abbey or the tiled floor of an 800-year-old cathedral, we feel that connection to the place, a reconciliation of the moment we were ripped away from our roots.
Tintagel, Cornwall

When we stand at the tomb of someone from our past, we realize that there was life here once, and there is again, in us. Here lived Love, Joy, Grief, Fear, Faith. 

Ancient languages like Hebrew are rich in visual images. Wrapped in the word shalom are meanings of peace, hello, goodbye, well-being, surely goodness and love (Psalm 23:6), wholeness, completeness, welfare, prosperity, and the deeply satisfied sigh, "Aaaagh." (Learned that from a rabbi!) 

And the magical feeling that we’ve come back to another home, a place where we truly belong. Go back to your roots, maybe for the first time.

You'll rediscover that feeling in the five-star book
 Effigy Hunter

Effigy Hunter will help fill in the gaps in your genealogical pedigree, as to where your medieval ancestors were buried, and if an effigy or brass still exists. It's also essential as an adventure travel guide when planning your trip to UK or Europe, because it shows both famous abbeys and churches, and small churches or ruins off the beaten path. Nine hundred names are charted in the book, and there are about 60 photos.


Christy K Robinson is the author of five-star nonfiction and fiction historical books, as well as author of Rooting for Ancestors and William and Mary Barrett Dyer websites. You will find her books at http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor.

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)


  1. Marilyn Smith
    Wonderful Article, Christy, and so perceptive! You say it so well. Looking fwd to Effigy Hunter.

    1. It's available on CreateSpace right now, and will be on Amazon any day. The waiting is gnawing at me! ;)


    Julie Esker Dishman –Memories passed down in your genes?
    Christy K Robinson –Not necessarily of specific events, but of fears or feelings. It's been speculated for years, and scientists are now discussing how it altered DNA.
    Julie Esker Dishman –I have heard trauma does alter DNA.

    Marilyn Smith –Lovely article, Christy, and expresses my feelings completely. I have many English ancestors, and it was the same with me when I went to England.

    Marsha Lambert I felt this when I landed in London! I had come home!

    Lynetta Kruse Murdoch –I felt it when I went to England! Something about it - Had many ancestors from there, Scotland and Ireland. Would love to go back!

    Larisa Quijano –Christy, I felt this very strongly when I went to Ireland for my brother's wedding. It was weird...I felt like there was someplace that I really belonged.  (And hadn't felt it in either Russia or England... the Irish roots are strong!)

  3. Oh to know I'm not alone in my feelings about England. Thirty years ago I visited there but I did not feel like a visitor. I felt I was where I belonged. I now know after doing genealogy for the past 15 years that my ancestors are the kings, queens, Knights, barons, earls, etc., that I have always been fascinated with since I was a teenager. Always an avid reader, back then I read historical fiction, the Plantagenets were my favorite time period. I loved the effigies I saw in England, totally drawn to them. Little did I know at the time that some of them are my ancestors. When we left to come home after two weeks I was not in a good mood. I felt homesick and I hadn't even left! Now I understand why. I must read Effigy Hunter!

    1. Thank you for your comments, MarthaH. I think when we go to the places of our ancestors, there really is a biological or chemical reaction in our bodies, as I suggested in the article.

      I hope you enjoy "Effigy Hunter," and that you'll recommend it to friends and give it as a gift.

    2. I just finished your book and it was great! As I read I had my pen ready to mark my ancestors. There were quite a few. It is so sad that for many ancestors there is nothing visible left. Still it's so fascinating to know where they all were supposed to be. I have so much to read already but I would love to read your other books in the future. I enjoyed your writing style and your humor. Thank you for a great read!

    3. Thank you for your compliments, MarthaH! Would you mind copying these thoughts into an Amazon review on the Effigy Hunter page? That would help me (obviously!), but also it would help potential readers decide on purchasing the book. Here's the page: http://bit.ly/EffigyHunter

  4. I too felt like I had come home when I visited England 30 years ago. When I saw the effigies I was drawn to them, fascinated. When I started doing genealogy 15 years ago I realized why. Kings, queens, Knights, barons and earls were my ancestors. An avid reader when I was young I read a lot of historical fiction. The Plantagenet time period was and still is a favorite of mine. Little did I know they were my ancestors. The effigies in Westminster were my relatives! When my family and I left England I felt homesick, I was not happy. I now know why. I just accidentally came upon the book Effigy Hunter. I will read it and I'm sure I will treasure it.

  5. FACEBOOK COMMENTS, Sept. 13, 2017

    S Clothier Schwanebeck: I felt that way on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland and this was not our first day! Getting chills just thinking about being there.

    C Brown: I felt that very strongly standing in Westminster Abbey in 1999. "HOME!"

    J Stearns Butka: My home place is always Sutton, New Hampshire and the surrounding towns. Once within the boundaries I feel like I'm home and loved.

    I Tower: In May, my wife and I visited Hingham, Norfolk, where the Towers of Hingham and Cohasset, MA came from. And Southwold, Suffolk, where Richard Ibrook of Hingham, MA came from.

    A James: This is true for me as well when I visited North Haven, CT. I also had that experience while vacationing on Long Island, NY.

    T Reynolds Hensel: I'm so glad you said this because I was unsure about sharing my experience, thinking it was weird. When I was a child reading a Nancy Drew book set in Scotland, I felt a strange connection to the place. This was long before I knew I had some ancestors from there. It has stuck with me throughout my life. Every time I read a book or see a film set there, I feel a kinship with the place and the people. I have never visited, and probably never will. Most of my ancestors are from all over British Isles, Netherlands, France, and Germany, but Scotland is the only place that really draws me with a special connection. I tend to believe the inherited memory theory, since I don't believe in reincarnation. But if I did, I would be sure that I had once lived in Scotland.

    J Miller Twining-Emery: This was so true as a child - long before I had known of genealogy and any family ancestry. There is something that ties us to the location. It is for real.

  6. So refreshing to see a post about this. I too have experienced this magnetic pull towards a place. For me it's New England....long before I started doing genealogy and learning that was where my roots were. There is nothing like being where you "belong."

  7. FACEBOOK COMMENTS, Sept. 14, 2017

    V Greenwood: Yes, I felt that way when I visited Rosscarbery, Ireland, and thought about my grandmother and her siblings, etc. had all walked these same streets and probably visited same stores I did. And also when I visited Downeen and the spot where her home (Probably) was. It was a wonderful feeling.

    S Karmeris: Yes I have felt that, many times.

    J Adamson Sawtelle: I had such feelings when I visited Plymouth, Mass and went into a house built by my ancestor Richard Sparrow. It was odd to have such feelings. To see how they lived and how short they had to have been. I had to duck down to even get through the door. Gives one a different perspective on ancestors and how they lived. Would love to go to England but alas, never shall make it.

    D Coose Littlefield: So this is why I felt at ''home'' when I'd visit Gloucester, MA. And I've 'felt' I KNEW an ancestor had lived in a house I'd drive by.......DNA is wonderful...

    M Rose: I've always felt that way when ever our family visited the "family farm" in Pleasant Mount, PA. it's been in the family over 2oo years, I've always felt at home...I always felt I belong there. Visited, never lived there. Now living in Ohio near our daughter and her family. We all wonder what will happen to "our home" when our last living Uncle goes on to join his family above that watches over us, he is 90 years old this year. Hate to have it non-family hands, wish one of could take over.

    S Linhart McGlaughlin: Yes I felt that way when I went to Sandwich, Mass. one of my ancestors houses is still standing. It is The Tobey House. I've been in it. Just touching what they did etc.... was wonderful. Thomas Tobey helped found Sandwich which is the oldest town on the cape. Would love to go back but no money to do that much less be able to go to England and find their home there.
    R Williamson White: I did the same thing in Sandwich, at the Wing House.
    S Linhart McGlaughlin: It’s the best feeling isn't it?

    M Waters: I have had these feelings when watching a certain movie, and a documentary.. so much emotion that tears were flowing down my cheeks the joy of "seeing home" I didn't connect until I delved deeper into my family history and yes my ancestors on one side came from both of these places.. I also have deep emotional connection to other of you ancestors.

    C Atkins: Happened to me when I visiting the Church and Cemetery at Cape Negro, Shelburne Co. Nova Scotia. What a feeling!

    A Kendzior Stickney: It's funny. I grew up in Higganum, CT not far from the shoreline. I have always felt connected to the CT shore. When I read books that took place there after moving away, I always felt at home. This year I learned that the settler of East Lyme, CT was my 10th great grandfather. I never knew I had Griswold blood until recently.

    C Cookson Cody: Sure did...

  8. FACEBOOK COMMENTS, Sept. 14, 2017

    J Henderson: My family has owned some land in SC since at least 1792. My second cousin still owns it. I went to visit last year and felt this very feeling. Ironically, on another branch of this family I have traced them to Salem MA. One being a judge in the Salem Witch trials. I learned all of that after moving to Proctor Hill in Salem. You know, the place they actually hung the witches. Everything comes full circle.

    P Swett Vincent: Yes when I go to ME I get a sense of home.

    S LoMonaco DeLoche: Right!?!
    Took me 30 years to break the wall of lies of my gateway ancestor. Once I did I was able to stand on land my family has lived on for 400 years, and yes, that was home.
    Was always the odd one out. Strange name, strange looks, no real family, never knew anything about my family, etc, etc.
    I arrive in Bath, show up at the history center asking for files by name and the lady is like "the Rigger?" And I'm like "OMG Yes!, what did he rig?!" And she's like "Everything!"
    Hanging out at a bar that he may have drank at, awesome.
    Finding the old Goss, Sawyer & Packard lot still empty, awesome!
    Finding a piece of rigging? Priceless!
    Knowing that Bath Iron Works only exists because he died.... I don't know what I think about that one....

    M L Bingham: I have always had that feeling when I visit my ancestral farms and houses.. I feel a strong connection to the land from where my ancestors lived. That is why, because I live close by, I often go and visit.

    H Ahearn: I felt that way in Finland, since 2 grandparent were born there, as well as my father and both his parents, and my mother's mother.

  9. FACEBOOK COMMENTS, Sept. 15, 2017

    S Deputy Larson: So interesting! I experienced this feeling as my husband and traveled down a small highway toward Center Sandwich, NH to see where my Quimby ancestors had lived. I was so powerfully struck by the feeling of being on this road before that I was brought to tears. It was the oddest experience I've ever had. Thank you to others who shared! Glad to know I wasn't simply imagining the experience!

    J Scharbach: Not just places... people also, for me. It's like a wave of recognition, and I can't explain it... all my life. And, like with the places, I've only found out within the past 8 months that there's a family link, to all of them. If I were to describe it, the land speaks to us... the spaces we call buildings, the stones, sometimes the belongings, all give off a feeling or something that we recognize. "You belong" is the way I'd describe it. Funny, though, when you think about it, there are SO Many of these places that welcome us. How far back does it go? I have no idea.

    G E Gustafson Malnati: My adult children always teased me about how much I talked about loving Sweden. It is the home of my paternal grandparents. When they finally got to visit Sweden they fell in love immediately. They were amazed by that feeling of coming home and now want to buy a summer home there. My daughter and I painted a mural of the multi-colored Swedish fields she saw on that visit for her baby's nursery. She named her daughter for my Swedish grandmother. They now understand that unexplainable feeling of peace obtained by being at a certain place and why I love doing genealogy.

    A Wilson: I think it's spooky to feel comfortable in a place only later to find that your family had a connection there.

    J Stevens: Yes, Five Islands Maine feels like sacred ground to me. Gloucester Mass and other parts of Essex County Mass, York County Maine, and such.


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