Deja Vu

déjà vu noun
dé·​jà vu | \ ˌdā-ˌzhä-ˈvü , -ˈvᵫ \
Definition of déjà vu
a: the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time
b: a feeling that one has seen or heard something before

Pleasant Prairie Cemetery, Osceola, Wisconsin

One thing I know for sure is that we all have a place we call home. Maybe it’s your childhood home. Maybe you were in the military or a military brat (or in my family’s case, the State Department) and didn’t find it until later in life. Maybe you were the daydreamer who imagined being somewhere else. Anywhere else. Maybe you’re still looking. Then again, maybe you always knew you were home.

I was that kid who would hear stories from friends who visited Disneyland in the 1960s with some envy. I was an avid lover of books as a teen, and one of my favorite outings with my mom and siblings was to the library. I had lots of favorites, but one of them was Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara. I don’t even remember the story line, but I wanted to live in Cheyenne. It makes me laugh now. As an adult living in Colorado, I’ve been to Cheyenne many times and no longer feel the way I did at 12. Even though I had never lived outside of Virginia, I just knew I was destined to live in the west. I left Virginia in 1988 and have been out west ever since. I might have reconsidered this at some point, but I met Kevin–who was born and raised in Montana–and the rest is moot.

But there are a few places on this earth that have me question myself. I’ve examined my motives and have come up with one conclusion: it’s deja vu from either another life or through my ancestral DNA. In my younger years, I used to think this line of thought was senseless, silly, meaningless and maybe just stupid. Maybe it is. But then again, maybe there is more to the notion too. I’ve seen plenty of evidence in the past 20 years to make me feel that it’s not coincidence.

The earliest feeling I can remember of feeling connected to a place is when we visited my grandmother in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Mom’s hometown. I just loved going there and staring out at Lake Superior. My Creech and Carter family made their home there, so this makes sense. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized it was actually in my soul. It’s possible my grandmother put a hex on me so that I would never forget it? Just kidding. But when I go back there, I feel connected. Really connected.

For my sister, who has been in the Navy and lived many places, both stateside and abroad, it wasn’t until she landed in Indiana for a job interview with Ford back in the late 1990s. I remember her call after her interview, when she told me she just felt very strange and that she should accept the job because there was an instant feeling of being home. It really puzzled her why she felt that twinge. When we told her it was the home of our Dunn family, it clinched the deal. She’s lives about 20 minutes from Mount Comfort and has no plans to leave Indiana. It’s HER home.

Then it happened overseas.

Back in 2009, my parents, Victoria and I went to Ireland over Christmas break. I don’t know when I had my “a-ha” moment there, but it hit me somewhere on the way from Galway to Dublin. There was a sense deep down I had been there before and that it was once my home. It was a serene, peaceful feeling. Ireland was once home to my Dunn, Seed and Marshall peeps, though I didn’t know it at the time. I don’t know if my father has ever felt this way, but Mom felt the pull of “home” when we first visited Scotland in 1987. I need to go back to Scotland to figure out if it comes over me now that I’m aware. I’ll pay attention to the lands in Fife to see if my connections to the Creech people extends across the pond, as well as Lanarkshire for my Dunn side. There are other ancestral tethers there to my Agnew and Sinclair roots too.

I’ve encountered a twist on this theme by doing my family genealogy and visiting places. There is something extraordinary and eerie when you stand on ground your ancestors trod in the past. I have no idea if the Native Americans have a word for that, but I’d like to know.

Last summer, Valerie and I went to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to visit Victoria and Mike over the 4th of July. We flew to Albany and then drove over the mountain to her place. When we made this trip 3 1/2 years ago, I hadn’t begun my genealogy journey, but I do remember thinking as we drove through the Finger Lakes region to Albany and then Massachusetts that it was picturesque, beautiful and that I could live there. There was a pull without an explanation. But last year I knew why: my Maxwell, Whaley, Chamberlain and Benton ancestors knew that land like the back of their hands. They raised their families in Massachusetts and eventually wound up in New York (Albany, Canandaigua, Pendleton and Brockport) before heading west to Wisconsin sometime before 1850.

Until recently, I knew nothing of these people, but now feel very connected to them and the places they lived. It’s my insatiable curiosity about them that has me continuing to dig. My only regret is that I didn’t learn of this earlier when Vic went to school in upstate New York. Apparently, I don’t do things the easy or convenient way. Doing things the hard way is what I do best.

When Vic, Val and I went to Buckland, Massachusetts, we looked out over the vast expanse of rolling green hills and I was filled with awe. That view was one my ancestors probably loved too. It’s a breathtaking view. More than 200 years separated us, but we were intimately connected in that moment. It can be a little overwhelming and sometimes emotional.

Then last fall, I dragged Valerie with me to western Wisconsin to finish researching these ancestors in the hopes of coming home with more information to complete a supplemental DAR application for Thompson Maxwell. My 3rd great grandfather, William Whaley Maxwell, left this world in 1891 with his parents’ names blank on his death certificate. That omission has created a lot of trouble for me, but it’s also taken me on a journey that has probably been more rewarding in the long run. I’ve discovered more about them than I would have if his parents’ names had been listed or if he had a normal obituary:

William Maxwell’s death certificate. The reason I had to go on a treasure hunt in NY and WI.
Not very helpful in the grand scheme of my research

For the record, he was definitely 73 years old; and although these 2 documents have different death dates, his tombstone says he was 75 and died on the 23rd. The 23rd WAS on Monday that year. I live for these types of discrepancies…

We arrived on a Friday morning, which gave me some time to head to University of Wisconsin in River Falls to do my newspaper look ups. The library is closed on weekends, so I had to get this done first. Val was bored out of her mind and really hungry, constantly signing for food, while I scanned the microfiche. I was able to procure some new pieces of information from that outing. Score. Val was rewarded with lunch and a trip to Cold Stone Creamery. She would insert a smiley face emoticon here.

The following day it was overcast, cold and dreary. It was the perfect day for a road trip outside of Hudson. Val loves spending hours driving around in a car, so this was a good outing for her. Maybe it was the stop at Culvers that had her happy? I had an 1876 land plat for Somerset, Wisconsin–where my Maxwell clan lived–so I set out to see the property. It’s still very rural; though there are some large homes/estates on the land now, I think I found the place where the Susan Maxwell Cemetery existed. It was overgrown with trees and there were no markers that I could see without trespassing. I was a little bummed by that. At the same time, I felt a little energized by being able to actually see this for myself.

After that, we headed to Pleasant Prairie Cemetery in Osceola, which was originally called the Hale Cemetery because the land was donated by my other 3rd great grandfather, Isaac Ward Hale. This is where my Hale/McKune extended family is buried. Most of the tombstones are for people in my tree. And yes, I feel like I know them all. I parked toward the front, walked to the back of the cemetery, and easily found a large tombstone marking the burial place of Silas and Lavinia Hale with Lavinia’s father, William Maxwell (photo up top). I reached out to put my hand on the tombstone and was surprised by my emotional reaction. My eyes filled with tears and all I could say was, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time and now I found you.” Up until that moment, I really hadn’t felt a tangible connection to Wisconsin. I logged it to another experience of being in a place very familiar to my ancestors.

Sunday I decided to set the genealogy aside and take Val to the movies and do a little more exploring. She would insert a happy dance emoticon here if there was such a thing.

Monday morning, we packed up our suitcases and headed to the Polk County Recorder’s office for deed and probate records. Insert imaginary photo of Val on a chair, picking her hang nails, because it would mirror reality. I found a few land deeds (happy dance emoticon for me!) to help my cause and decided to take Val to Culvers one last time for lunch before heading to the airport in Minneapolis and a long wait for our flight home. We were in the drive-thru queue, and I was talking to Mom and Dad when Dad asked if I had been “up the road” to St. Croix Falls to see the cemetery where our Creech family is buried. I hadn’t been there and decided to change plans and head that way. I wasn’t disappointed.

We entered St. Croix Falls Cemetery, and after talking to one of the landscaping crew, drove up the hill to the very top. I probably should mention that western Wisconsin is very hilly. Up on the hill in the oldest section, I found my 2nd great grandparents’ obelisk tombstone and all his wife’s Seed family. I wasn’t expecting to feel anything there, and it surprised me that I did. I don’t know why it surprised me, because Grand Marais–where this Creech family ultimately settled–was only several hours away. My intrepid great-great grandfather, Elisha Chadwell Creech, had the most prominent view of the entire cemetery below him. Somehow, I don’t think it’s by accident either. His visibility in the community as a pioneer and logger probably earned him that spot. It was a long way from Lee County, Virginia, to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and he lived a whole lot of life in between.

After leaving St. Croix Falls, my car veered across the state line back into Minnesota. My new plan was to meander along the St. Croix River until it was time to head back to Minneapolis. The drive was beautiful and quiet, and almost completely deserted at that time of the year. We had a quick stop in Stillwater–which is a place I’d like to visit again some day.

Ultimately, I came to a strange and unexpected conclusion: my soul is actually tethered to Wisconsin and Minnesota. I’ve called Denver home since early 1991 and have no desire to leave, so this conclusion isn’t something I say easily. Although I look like my father and I share plenty of DNA with him and his people, it’s this cast of characters on Mom’s side who I feel with me a lot of the time. Even though they’ve given me a whole lot of trouble, now I know why.

Author: Betsey K.

Mother of two daughters, two Siamese cats and a 3 legged dog. Genealogy hack. Research nut. Search engine proficient. Daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, niece and ex-wife. And a person who strives for balance and peace.

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