With the extra hour you gain from this weekend’s time change, Genealogy At Heart has a 2-for-1 special today! As I conclude my synchronicity series I’ll be reviewing two books that are filled with genealogical coincidences. The first blog will cover Henry “Hank” Z. Jones, Jr.’s Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1993). The second blog today is Jones’ follow-up, More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997).
Here’s my disclaimer – I’ve read both books several years ago but not for the purpose of a book review. After my October 1st blog, October Genealogical Coincidences Part 1, was posted, I was contacted by a reader who requested I write the book reviews. I thought that was a wonderful way to end my series. I received no monetary compensation for these reviews, however, I did receive a free copy of both books.
Psychic Roots is a compilation of professional genealogists’ stories of their odd experiences while performing research. Most occurrences happened when the ancestor was a family member, however, some transpired while research was being performed for clients. One of the book’s strengths is its reliance on input from professional genealogists, many renowned such as current or former fellows of the American Society of Genealogists, such as Henry Lines Jacobus, Helen F. M. Leary, John Insley Coddington, and Francis “Jim” Dallett. GRIP co-founder Elissa Scalise Powell is also included. Jones contacted 300 genealogists requesting they share any unusual experiences encountered while researching. Over 200 replied and many of their responses are contained in the book, including a few who had no strange occurrences at all.
The book begins with a tale of how Jones got bitten by the genealogy bug as a youth. Like many of us, genealogy was Jones’ second career. Some of you may recall seeing him on the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, in Disney’s Blackbeard’s Ghost, or on various television situation comedies before he left entertainment for family history.
Jones is a fellow of the American Society of Genealogists. Psychic Roots was not his first authored work. He is well-known for The Palatine Families of Ireland (1965) and the two-volume The Palatine Families of New York – 1710 (1985) for which he received the prestigious Jacobus Award. It was a result of those works that Psychic Roots came about; Jones could not let go of his passion for the emigrating Palatinates and he desired to explore why he was called to spend much of his life investigating them. Upon reflection, he recalled the many strange occurrences that led him to research findings.
Jones stresses “scientific methods” or as today, we would follow the guidelines in the Genealogy Standards. He delved into other disciplines to better understand the unexplainable events he had experienced. His research took him to the works of author Horace Walpole, who purportedly coined the word serendipity, psychologist Carl Jung’s collective unconscious, chemist Dr. Louis Pasteur’s view of chance, physician Dr. Jonas Salk’s intuitive thinking, physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s study of non-physical and non-causal events in nature, physicist Albert Einstein’s belief in intuition, and NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s ESP studies. He attended lectures by individuals, such as Ramond Bayless and Dr. Elizabeth McAdams, who investigated psychics. Jones examined Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ works on near-death experiences. He also looked for precedence in the field of genealogy and found it in “Randall-Pease-Hutchinson-Warner: A Study in Serendipity,” an article published in The American Genealogist by Winifred Lovering Holman in 1957. He includes a bibliography for further reading.
The types of nonrational experiences are explored in depth by chapters, divided by synchronicity, numeracy, intuition, and genetic memory.
The title, Psychic Roots, is a bit deceiving. If you’re expecting woo-woo, spine-tingling creepiness you aren’t going to find it here. You are more apt to have a belly laugh. This is one area that I think makes the book so successful; when dealing with sensitive situations, appropriate laughter can be useful and some of the stories are hilarious.
I found this book is much more than just the uncanny experiences of genealogists. There are many other discoveries to be made in Psychic Roots. For example, I found it interesting how Helen Leary researched; she did not use Write as You Go. No spoiler alert here; you’ll have to get a copy to find out her method.
Henry Jones reinforces other tips that genealogists can find helpful, such as researching the FAN Club, although that term wasn’t used at the time the book was published, collaborating with colleagues, and boots-on-the-ground research. If you attended Thomas Jones’ 2023 National Genealogical Society lecture, “It Gets Even Better Offline,” he stated in one of his examples that “This incident also illustrates how serendipity can play a role in genealogical research and in my experience there are more serendipitous findings in genealogical research offline than there are online.” The tales in Psychic Roots support that belief.
I could relate to many of the stories as I’ve found myself in similar frustrating situations when hitting a brick wall. One memorable account related how a researcher, in desperation, began speaking to a photo of the son of the man she was unable to find information about. Her family thought she was losing touch with reality until a few months later, after repeated requests directed at the photo, the information she sought was found. If only I had a photo of my Thomas Duer! Jones believes that both thinking and feeling about your ancestor, along with immersing yourself in their customs and societal norms is what leads to successful finds.
The book is a quick read and difficult to put down. While reading it I did have one strange occurrence. Somehow, my new smartphone decided to change my keyboard to Deutsch. I have no idea how that happened. It could have been a fluke or, it could have been Jones’ Palatine families wanting to communicate. Who knows what odd situation will happen to you when you pick up a copy! Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.