Betsy Cross

Dr. McClane’s Worm Specific

In Family History, Genealogy, Passionj on July 30, 2012 at 11:26 am

“So, did I tell you about my bottle project?”  I’d only known her a week and we’d barely spoken. She gripped the steering wheel and stared straight forward, paying attention to the traffic, but I knew that look. What she had really meant to say was, “Ask me to tell you! PLEASE!”

I laughed and answered, “Bottle project? No, you haven’t.” And with that I knew she was gone. You know how I knew? I could relate to the feeling…the unrelenting need to share your passion with anyone with ears because you know there’s only so much room in your body and soul for never-before-shared stories, and if you don’t tell them something bad will happen for sure.

I’d found a kindred spirit of sorts.

So, here’s the story. Her story, and what it means to me.

A couple of weeks ago, shards of glass started poking through the grass near her hammock in her back yard - a lawn that her husband was very proud of and had spent considerable time, money and energy on. Well, THAT’S not safe, she thought, and decided to dig it up and get rid of it. Two weeks later we’re sitting in her truck on the way home from work and she’s describing the pit she has created while excavating – the hole that calls to her, but torments her husband as he watches it grow in width and depth every day.

She can’t wait to get home to dig up more treasures. She has found 18 medicine bottles, including Dr. McClane’s Worm Specific, a full-size cast iron stove, brass rings of lanterns, and 8 huge buckets of broken glass from the 1800′s. No piece of glass slips through her fingers unnoticed. She’s addicted to the search of the small. I told her that she should be an archaeologist! I guess she already is. She’s older than I am by a few years and has done a lot in her life. I wondered if this was her first go-’round with passion?

She told me that it’s all she thinks about. I nodded and tried to wedge in an “I can relate!” to the monologue. But she was in the zone. She couldn’t hear me. She didn’t want to hear me. She made me laugh so hard with her enthusiasm.

Her husband and children think she’s a bit nuts, she told me. When she’s not digging, she’s scouring the Internet to identify her finds.

I get it.

Was it just last week that my friend and I’d made a similar discovery at the Family History Center? I’ve read  files, newspaper clippings, and hand-written journal entries, and am full to over-flowing with excitement. Sometimes someone will catch me teary-eyed or giggling, and for a minute I’ll have someone who’ll listen to me as I recount the latest uncovered tale.

But, for the most part, just like my new friend, I enjoy an alternate universe alone, digging deeper and deeper, uncovering voices that share their dreams, joys, sorrows, and memories like a sunrise that peeks over the horizon – appreciated by those who come to behold in silence and awe,  a light that exposes a hidden and sleeping world.

Some things you just have to see and experience for yourself.

And you know by a look in the eyes, and the sound of a voice when somebody else has hit pay dirt whose reward is passion – an inexplicable need to stick with a task that is felt like a gift by those who possess it and seen as a curse whose “back yard” is being “destroyed.”

Buried in a manila envelope, tucked between thirty photos from the late 1800′s, I found this newspaper clipping. Maybe you can relate? Maybe you have a passion that makes you feel like this?

Serendipity…My Favorite Word to Live

In Family History, Family History Center, Family Search, Family Tree, Historical Society, Legacy Stories on July 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

Have you ever had a gift so completely unexpected fall in your lap that time stands still and you have no words to express the shock and awe? Something that threatens and promises to suck up all of your time and energy, and you can’t help but shout “thank you!” to the Universe for its well-orchestrated conspiracy to put you right where it needed you to get something magnificent done?

Isn’t that serendipity?

Could a starving man stumbling upon a banquet be more grateful than I am?

Last night the heavens opened and dropped a project through the dark night into a stagnating life. Mine.

“Betsy, have you seen what’s in these file cabinets?” my friend called to me from the office. I had the keys in my hand ready to lock up and was hurrying because I was already over half an hour late getting home.

I figured that they were full of useless and out-dated papers that we’d throw away as we made time to get better organized, freeing ourselves of the clutter that had accumulated over the years and had survived the scrutiny of several directors of the Cape Cod Family History Center.

Actually, I don’t think that those drawers had been opened in years.

Three file cabinets stuffed with file after file of original and copied photos of people and places of the area dating back over a hundred years were tucked in the corner of our office. And if it had been a living, breathing thing it would have done a happy dance as we started looking through its contents.

I get the chills every time I think about it.

I really wish we could camp out in the Center and work every day ’til we are done. But, we’ll never be done. Not really.

We will scan the pictures, organize the files as we look for the descendants of the people on the pictures who I know still live nearby. We’ll call the Historical Society and see if they’re interested in copies.

It boggles my mind that we stumbled upon this treasure that has sat right under our noses and those of our predecessors for so long!

Has anyone been wondering where some of their family photos went? How are they going to feel when they get our call telling them that we found them? Are they going to be as excited as we were? Those questions have been hounding me since last night. We can take our time contacting the owners, making sure that the work to preserve them is done before we hand them over. Someone obviously felt that they were important enough to share with the Center that they were filed away for safe keeping. We’ll honor that trust by making simple family trees that we can prepare for Family Search, as well as a free, private account with Legacy Stories that will stay private until we receive permission to make it public.

There are even hand-written and typed family stories in some of the files!

I’m so excited. So is my partner in crime! She and I will probably open up the Center every night of the week until this work is done.

We’ve been sucked in!

Who Needs Me?

In Family History, Family History Center, Genealogy, Legacy Stories, Organizing Documents and Notes, Scrapbooks, Story-Telling, What Matters on July 23, 2012 at 11:50 am


My life, my mind, and my heart have been in limbo for a while now, waiting for direction.

How do I feel about family history- something I’ve focused on intensely for over 3 years and have been working on since the 1980′s?


  • written 133 posts about it
  • spent a lot of time at the Family History Center as a volunteer director
  • developed a system to organize beginners  and unorganized genealogy enthusiasts
  • created a website that could really serve them
  • joined the I ASK (International Association of Story Keepers) cause

…and I’ve seen the bottom drop out of all of it when my world turned upside down in April.

For the first time in 26 years I’ve had to work outside of my home to provide where my husband always had. I’ve been incredibly blessed to never have to worry about leaving my children. But I’ve had promptings for over a year to develop my online business so that I could support my family if needs be without leaving my home for more than a couple of hours at a time doing consultant (paid!) work.

But for a while now I’ve questioned the value of my gifts and if people really do need and want what I’m naturally drawn to –  the stories of a person’s life that is collected in documents and pictures, researched to bring out life’s lessons, and ultimately shared and archived in stories to share with family and friends.

The real question was: if nobody else was interested was I fulfilled enough to continue down that path? I was working with people so I knew there really were people who needed me, but what I wanted was a business partner, someone to pick me up when I doubted.

I thought the answer was no. My energy was wrapped up in survival and a multitude of distracting thoughts and emotions from sun-up ’til sundown.

Then the Universe conspired  to help me out and to teach me, or better yet to save me from myself.

I spent five hours on Saturday cleaning a 10 bedroom house on the ocean. I had time to reflect. Lots of it. And I was paid very well which presented a dilemma: work for money or find a way to get paid doing what you love?

I felt nothing as I worked. Sometimes that’s good. It’s wonderful to have the space where no emotions come to hijack your energy.

I was invisible to the people who were checking out the house - a house that slept 20 and was rented out mostly to wedding parties at $7,000. per week. Maybe it was $10k?

It struck me as funny that my whole life was wrapped up in making sure that people, the living and the dead, know that they are valued and NOT forgotten, yet there I was, serving people who, when crossing my path on the one day that life presented an intersection for us to meet and greet, I was the one who saw the opportunity.

I accepted the unspoken label of “the hired help”, and am old enough not to have been bothered by it. I work hard no matter what the job is, and this job was no different.

Then I came to the second floor foyer where there was a massive built-in bookcase that bothered me enough with its disheveled appearance to want to spend some time with it. I organized and righted beautiful, old books as I made my way from the top to the bottom of two, six-foot-long shelves that were filled with at least 20 photo albums of pictures dating back at least 70 years. The pictures hadn’t been mounted on acid-free paper and were browning and crumbling. I tidied them up as my thoughts drifted to the person(s) who’d valued them enough to organize them and put them in a book, and was saddened to realize that they had so much history in them that would be lost in a very short time if they weren’t digitized and put on cd’s and possibly online. Old and young walked by them every day as they were making memories of their own, too busy to stop, pull one off the shelf and appreciate the strangers living on their pages.

That was why I was there in that house. I knew it.

I was the only one whose focus that whole day was on the memories made in that house by generations of parents and children whose joy and laughter permeated the walls and floated in as effortlessly as the ocean breezes carried the curtains.

But Winter is coming.

Those windows will be shut soon to those memories.

Nobody will walk by those books, sit down, peruse the pages and open their hearts to the eyes that stare at them from the well-worn photographs. Eyes that plead to connect and have their stories told.

It wasn’t that nobody else would value those stories.

It was that I was going to be the only one to remind them to tell them.


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