Deserts and Storms

The Intertestamentary Desert of the Soul

August. The desert month of summer. There are seven months with thirty-one days, so why does this one seem like the longest? Long hot days. No special holidays or celebrations (at least, not in the USA). August feels to me like the intertestament time in the Bible. A long time between the last great thing and the next great thing.

I feel like I’m in a mini-intertestament period in my life, actually. Because of my faith, I know God is not far off — He’s a very present help in time of need — but if I were to rely on my feelings alone, I’d be in trouble, because lately it feels like God is distant.

It’s not unusual to feel this way, and it’s not unholy to talk about it or even to ask why. Jesus on the cross asked, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And King David wrote about this feeling often in the Psalms. We have a green-light to ask God, in all seriousness, “Lord, why do You seem so far away?” and humbly wait for His answer. Psalm 13 is one such prayer, which is good to know when the words won’t even come.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

I think one of the most beautiful features of this psalm is in the last two verses, where it places praise before outcomes. The very heart and definition of faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Seasons change in their time, and God is not far. We can ask our questions, and expect His answer.

Sometimes the answer is a deluge.

Originally, that was the end of this entry, but the landscape changed between the time I started writing this and now that it’s time to schedule the post. I had an inkling that it would, when a recent post by Nicole Seitz (here) and another by Rachel Hauck (here) plucked my heartstrings the way they did. Like that feeling that tells you to remember your umbrella, a gentle sense of warning stirred in my soul at the words, “Be ready.”

The forecast was true.

A death in my husband’s family. A dire hospitalization in mine. A friend suffering a loss that makes my soul ache–though surely not a tenth of what she must be feeling.

Along with people I love, I am heartbroken. And being heartbroken means there are promises for us. For me.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
-Psalm 34:18

He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
-Psalm 147:3

My God–the God who felt distant, though He wasn’t, when I wrote the paragraphs above–is very present. He’s given peace; He’s dealt bountifully with me. He’s fitted together disparate pieces into a picture that I know He means for me to see, one that might almost have a note on the back. Saw this & thought of you.

It’s kind of like this.

Two weeks ago, I helped with a yard sale and got a terrible sunburn in the process. I didn’t wear sunscreen because I didn’t think I’d be in the sun that much. We would set up and then hang out in the garage in front of the fans. But I didn’t account for the 45 minute drive both ways. I burned. It hurt. A lot.

When I went back for day two of the yard sale, I took measures to keep it from getting worse–my hubby’s heavy-duty sunblock, a little cardigan to cover my arms if I had to go out of the shade, and because that was unbearable, a cute-kitten umbrella that provided much-needed shade and allowed me to unleash my inner girlie-girl.

It was so hot. Ninety-plus degrees, as it has been for too many days in a row. I love the south, but this… this was hot.

Afternoon came, and with it, one of those sudden thunderstorms that are as much a part of a Georgia summer as the heat. All of us helping with the yard sale raced around to move things inside and cover the rest with tarps. We got it all done just in the nick–honestly, the sky opened up right then.

It poured. And everyone stood in the garage, looking forlorn.

But I’d been uncomfortable all day, and I couldn’t help myself. I took my umbrella and danced around in the sweet, cooling rain. I shouted for them out of a crazy spilling-over of joy. “It feels glorious out here!”

The storm came, but you know… for those twenty minutes or so, the rain that ruined our yard sale was nonetheless a relief.

Thanks for reading. You are a blessing to me.

Author Q&A today on Story Matters!

I’m pleased to be featured on Story Matters today, talking faith, genealogy and my debut novel with author and book reviewer Katherine Scott Jones. I enjoyed answering her thoughtful questions so much. Hop over and take a peek!

And by the way—if you haven’t picked up your copy of Whispers in the Branches yet, you’ll want to check out my Goodreads giveaway, too!

(Sweepstakes. No purchase required; US residents only; void where prohibited. See official rules when entering.)

Whispers in the Branches, and Kitty

I don’t have teenagers to embarrass, so I made my cat pose with my book. Smile, Kitty!

DIAGNOSED: Clues connect to explain John H. Heinemann’s limp

(Or, How a Find My Past Free Trial Weekend Rocked My Research, pt. 4)

Glad you’ve been enjoying this series! Last time, I wrote about a bevy of undiscovered details in a mostly-solved mystery. This time, I want to talk about an overlooked figure in Orilla and Edward’s story–John Heinemann, one half of the couple who adopted their baby.

I don’t know what compelled John to give his name to a child at the age of 78, but I’ve long admired his choice. What else could I learn about this interesting man?

A brand-new detail connects to existing evidence and launches a new search.

Details about my grandfather’s adoptive father, John H. Heinemann, are sparse compared to his more famous brother (Nicholas W. Heinemann of the Heinemann Chemical Company). In particular, I’d long desired to find a record or clipping giving the exact date and location of his 1905 marriage to Clara Jane Wertz. So far, no joy.

But if you guessed that I saw another newspaper I thought worth checking, you guessed right. Since the Wertz family had established ties to Olean NY by then, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to look for Clara and John in the Olean Democrat.

I still didn’t hear wedding bells, but I did find two very interesting mentions:


“Heineman, the proprietor of the Exchange hotel, is confined to the house with rheumatism. This is the third attack Mr. Heineman has had this winter.” -March 5, 1891, Olean Democrat

—and this—

“John Heineman who has been confined to his room by rheumatism for some time is now able to be out with the aid of a crutch.” -April 27, 1894, Olean Democrat

In spite of my sensational title, I’m not actually 100% sure this is “our” John. But if it is, these details connect unexpectedly with not one but two of our family photographs of him—one in which he’s using a cane, and another in which a crutch can be seen lying in the yard in the foreground.

If I can confirm this, what an interesting chapter it will add to John H. Heinemann’s story. The search is on for records surrounding the purchase and sale of the Exchange hotel in Cattaraugus county.

All this in a weekend!

I can hardly believe I found so many discoveries and clues in a single weekend. I had walls I couldn’t scale in my family tree research. One weekend of free access to Find My Past and marathon-searching opened doors that I didn’t know existed in the middle of those walls.

In summary, diving into new, unfamiliar resources can be the best thing for a line that seems stalled or a problem that seems unsolvable. Keep at it, thanks for reading, and good hunting to you!

Like any puzzle, you just have to put the pieces together...

(Photo: © Okea |

Disclosure: I’m not an affiliate of Find My Past—and actually, I haven’t even bought a paid subscription, although I’m very likely to do so at some point in the future.

CONFIRMED: Edward C. Laughlin of Bradford PA loved a good party in the Roaring Twenties

(Or, How a Find My Past Free Trial Weekend Rocked My Research, pt. 3)

Good to see you, friend! Last time, I wrote about how a long-sought obituary finally revealed the what and when of the Wells family crisis. This week, I’m jumping forward in time again. In the early Twenties, my great-grandmother Orilla Wells liked to keep in touch with the social column of the Olean Evening Herald. It would have been nice to find her mentioned along with a beau now and then as I was searching for her story, but then again, maybe that would have been too easy.

Details on a range of unexamined years opened up a richer story.

Though I had compiled much information about the enigmatic character at the center of my favorite genealogical mystery, the data wouldn’t coalesce into a sense of who Edward C. Laughlin was or what his life was like. The Bradford Era editions available at Newspaper Archive and Ancestry always left me hungry for more.

Once again, the impressive Find My Past newspaper stacks proved invaluable. Twenties editions of the Bradford Era provided a slew of new Laughlin tidbits.

A pattern developed. I learned that he was active in his local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion and the Knights of Columbus, and if there was a dance, parade, or bazaar in Bradford from 1920 to 1925 or so, Edward Laughlin was on a committee for it.

I’ve already compiled a timeline of Orilla’s reports to the newspaper in the years immediately before and after my grandfather’s birth. She kept up quite a busy social social entertaining friends, traveling, and yes, making visits to Bradford.

During the same time frame, Edward stayed busy himself. Always a committee to serve or a party to attend. It’s interesting that when he returned from serving in France in World War I, he put such priority on a cross between civic volunteerism and, well, living it up.

Whether the slowdown in his social calendar is related to my grandfather’s birth at the end of 1924, or to Orilla’s marriage to someone else in 1926, I can’t say. I do think that when my grandfather’s guardians chose to move to Bradford toward the end of the Twenties, Edward Laughlin was acutely away of his son residing only a block away. Furthermore, even before the stock market crash put a halt to everyone’s fun, Edward’s mother’s passing in May 1929 surely affected him deeply. My guess is that the busyness became hollow for him as the Roaring Twenties died down to a whimper.

(Related post: A Letter Waiting)

In the final post in this series, I’ll share how two short clues in an 1890s newspapers connected to existing evidence–leading to a possible diagnosis for one ancestor’s ailment!

Don't stop until you have all the details...

(Photo: © Okea |

Disclosure: I’m not an affiliate of Find My Past–and actually, I’m technically not even their customer, since I haven’t bought a paid subscription. However, I’m very likely to do so at some point in the future.

Real quick, before you go…!

I’m so thrilled that yesterday, Emilie Hendryx hosted me on her wonderful blog, Thinking Thoughts. Emilie is the incredibly talented photographer who took my headshots last year. Hop over to check out our interview (particularly the tidbit where I mercilessly tease about what readers can look for next…)

REVEALED: New evidence on what became of Joseph Wells of Tidioute PA

(Or, How a Find My Past Free Trial Weekend Rocked My Research, pt. 2)

Thanks for returning for the next installment! Last time, I explained how the Irish Collections at Find My Past helped me tie together a fistful of clues, allowing me to trace my Laughlins back to their origin in Ireland. This time, I’m here to talk about Orilla’s Irish grandparents, although their mystery starts here in the USA.

A long-sought obituary corroborates a sketchy Find-A-Grave entry.

Orilla’s grandparents, Joseph and Bridget Wells, also came from Ireland. They arrived in 1864 at ages 20 and 18 respectively, traveling via the main steerage part of the S. S. City of Baltimore.

Early in my research, I found a mystery. Some time between 1880 and 1900, the Wells family all but fell apart. Joseph and Bridget vanish and their five children are left to care for each other.

I tried newspapers and probate records, and even though every small fact I found about the Wells family felt like a win, I still wasn’t getting any closer to answering the initial question: What happened to Joseph and Bridget, and when?

When I found Joseph Wells’s Find-A-Grave entry, it seemed like a break in my case at first. It gave the date of his death as February 28, 1885. However, it’s only a transcribed record. The entry notes that there is no physical headstone in the cemetery , so where did the information come from? Cemetery data? Church records? A local history? Or even the obituary I’d been seeking for so long?

Enter Find My Past. They boast over 1000 exclusive collections, including historical newspaper content. The value of that claim became real to me when, at long last, I leaned in close to the screen and read Joseph Wells obituary.

“Joseph Wells, a resident of this place for eighteen years, died at his home on Kinnear street, of heart disease, on Friday morning last at 3 o’clock. He leaves a wife and five children. The funeral services were held at the Episcopal church, on Sunday at 2 o’clock p. m., the Rev. J. B. F. Brooks of Oil City officiating.” -March 6, 1885, The Warren Ledger

I still don’t know Bridget Wells’s fate, but I’m on my way to understanding the shockwave that surely made an indelible impact in Orilla’s father’s life, and by extension hers as well.

(Related post: A Writer Like Aunt Lizzie)

In part three, we’ll glimpse a side of Edward C. Laughlin that has been hidden up until now…

What you need is some new evidence...

(Photo: © Okea |

Disclosure: I’m not an affiliate of Find My Past—and actually, I’m technically not even their customer, since I haven’t bought a paid subscription. However, I’m very likely to do so at some point in the future.