Confession: I Hired a Genealogy Psychic

Confession: I Hired a Genealogy Psychic

by Kerry Scott on 20 September 2010

This is a true story.  I’m telling you this even though it’s weird enough that now I probably won’t ever be able to run for office (except in Delaware).

About a month ago, I hired a psychic to help me find one of my impossible-to-find ancestors.

Here’s how it happened:

The ancestor was my great-grandmother’s half-brother (I’ll call him John Smith, which is not his real name, for reasons I’ll explain in another post).  My great-grandmother was one of those people who clearly was close to her family.  I have lots of pictures and postcards that indicate that she was in touch with, and often visited, her extended relatives all over the place.  She was a family-oriented person.

So the fact that her records for John stopped in 1910 led me to believe that he had died not long after that.  My great-grandmother was married in 1913, and I have the guest book pages and the photos…and John isn’t in them.  I have her albums and other records from her visits after that to various cousins, aunts, uncles…she even visited her brother’s wife’s siblings.  But there was never anything about John.  The last thing I had was a postcard he’d sent her, postmarked 1910 in South Dakota, saying that it was “hotter than the dickens” and that he had just finished baking and was tired out.  This suggested that he was a baker.  He would have been about 19 at the time the postcard was sent.

After that—nothing.  No one in my family also had any idea what had happened to him.  They had information on the other brother, who died in 1921.  But not John.

So I’ve been looking for what happened to John for most of the years I’ve been doing research.  He was definitely on my most-wanted list.  I was always working on the general assumption that he’d probably died not long after 1910 (and probably before June 1913, when my great-grandmother’s wedding took place without him).  I never found even a hint of him.  His fate was a complete mystery.

Meanwhile, a few months ago, I saw a mention of a genealogy psychic on a Rootsweb list.  I rolled my eyes.  Then I started writing a blog post about how dumb you’d have to be to hire a genealogy psychic to find your ancestor.  I ran out of synonyms for “sucker” pretty quickly.  Then I read it over…and realized I was being kind of a weenie.  I mean, I don’t generally believe in psychics.  If you do, though…well, whatever.  It’s a free country.  Who am I to say this psychic can’t help?  It’s not really for me to judge, right?

So I deleted the post.  That left me with no post for that week (because as I mentioned before, I’ve been a little writer’s-block-y lately).  I started to wonder what exactly a genealogy psychic would tell you.  It would have to be vague, right?  I mean, they’d have to tell you something like, “I see John in the west” or “I see John with lots of dirt all around him” or something.  The more I thought about it, the more curious I was.

So I went back and looked at the genealogy psychic’s website.  A reading for one relative was $30.  I decided to do it, thinking it would make a good blog post, if nothing else.  I’m willing to spend $30 to entertain you, my dear readers.  I thought about doing a relative whose fate I already knew, but decided that would be a weenie-esque thing to do.  So I used John instead.  I emailed her what I knew:  his first and last name, the year and state he was born in, and the fact that his parents had died before he reached adulthood.  I said I know he was living in South Dakota in 1910, but that was it.  I included a photo that showed only his face.

She sent me my reading the following afternoon.  This is the complete text of it (with only his first name changed):

John was a busy and adventurous guy.  Although he was in South Dakota, he moved on to Wyoming, where he joined up with people running illegal alcohol products during Prohibition as this was a high-income opportunity.  He died in a vehicle accident or explosion related to this occupation sometime between 1928 and 1932.  This happened in the area now known as Carbon County, with the city name “Encampment” although I don’t know what the city was called in that time period.

He may not have had proper identification on him at the time of his death.  I believe that there are newspaper accounts from that time period that may help you find confirmation of this, and there should be a death certificate somewhere in Carbon County because I have the impression that someone identified him, and his name is on an official death certificate somewhere in that area in county or city records.

This is all of the material about John that I was able to retrieve at this time.  I hope it is helpful.

Now, see, that’s not vague at all.  That’s pretty specific.  And while I still didn’t (and don’t) believe in psychics, I think I got $30 worth of entertainment out of this…because it’s a great story.  I’ve imagined all kinds of fates for John, but I’d never imagined him having lived long enough to be involved in Prohibition.  I even looked up the history of Encampment, Wyoming.  It’s fascinating.  I didn’t find John, but I didn’t expect to.

But here’s where things got weird:

A couple of weeks later, I was working on the research for this post.  I was looking on for newspapers in central Minnesota.  While doing that, I noticed that they had a large collection from Albert Lea, which is where John was from.  It was about 3am, and I had to keep to my deadline to finish the post in time…but I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a peek.  So I pulled up the index for the Albert Lea newspaper for around 1910, and typed in his name.  His real name is very common (especially in that area/timeframe), so I got a lot of results.  I started going through them, and got up to about 1918 before I realized I’d probably gone too far, since he was probably dead by then.  Also, I had this deadline.  I knew I should get back to the work I was supposed to be doing.

But then I noticed further down the page that there was an article from 1929 about the trial of John…for illegally making and selling alcohol.

Now, John’s real name is very common.  There were hundreds and hundreds of mentions of people in that paper with the same name from the 1920s alone.   I never would have bothered to click on that article, or even go all the way through to 1929, if I hadn’t just read her theory as to what happened to him.  It was the Prohibition thing that sucked me in, and that came directly from the psychic.

But I did.  And what I found blew my mind.  It cracked the case wide open.  Come back later this week and I’ll tell you about it.

(See, it’s a cliffhanger, like on TV, because this post is already way too long, and because dammit, I mean to get my $30 worth).

Edited to add:  The sort-of exciting conclusion is here.

Photo by benleto

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda McCauley September 20, 2010 at 1:33 pm

I’m on the edge of my seat!


Jo September 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

OMG – next post ASAP please! A death certificate, please, please? With lots of corroborating evidence? I hope it was worth your $30 cos I’ll be next in line with my Elizabeth Burnett! Jo


kristin September 20, 2010 at 1:50 pm

i’m on the edge of my seat and i’m making a list of which lost ancestor i’m going to look for first. Where my maternal grandfather Mershell was in 1900 at age 12 or my paternal grandmother’s oldest sister, Josephine who disappears after 1880 although I know she got married and had two children….


Melissa Barker September 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Interesting blog post. Will be waiting for the update!


Elizabeth O'Neal September 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Interesting, but… how do you know the psychic didn’t do exactly the same thing (do a search on NewspaperArchive) before sending you her report? And before you call me a naysayer, let me go on the record as saying that I actually DO believe in psychics (although I don’t believe that all people who call themselves psychic actually are).

However… even if she did do the search first, I think you got your $30 worth. I’ll be back for the next installment(s) of this story (and maybe the name of that psychic)!


Debi September 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Can you at least give us previews for next week’s show? After all, that’s what they do on TV. I can’t wait!


Susan September 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

You could charge us you know. I would willingly pitch in a buck or two to get the end of the story! And I’ll pay more for the name of this psychic phenom. Then she goes to the top of my Christmas wish list.


Rachel September 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

My first thought would be the same as Elizabeth’s. Maybe the psychic was just really good at genealogy research. However, for $30 it doesn’t hurt to have someone push you in the right direction whether it was psychic intuition or research.


Cynthia Shenette September 20, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Great post. I’m looking forward to reading part two. Do I believe in psychics? Not really. Do I believe most of them are real? Definately not. BUT, I did have something really weird happen to me thirty years ago. I’ve never gotten it out of my mind. Maybe I’ll write about it someday. Halloween is just around the corner. I hope you found John.


Michelle Goodrum September 20, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I’m hooked! This is like “Who Shot Jr?” from the Dallas TV series!

I might be wanting the name of this pyshic too, after I see how this story plays out…


kristin September 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm

there is a link to the psychic in the blog entry above. tells you everything you need to know to hire her.


Kerry Scott September 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Yes. Although I recommend waiting for the ending before you do that. I will have it either sometime Wednesday or on Thursday morning, although I’ve probably jinxed myself by saying that.


Angelique Welch September 20, 2010 at 4:45 pm

I LOVE this story! You made me LOL, “weenie-esque”! What a hoot! I am looking forward to reading the next chapter :)


Susan Tiner September 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Kerry this is so cool. I wonder if the psychic has really a really good feel for why people “disappear” from family narratives and in that place at that time prohibition related illegal activity is a reasonable assumption to make.


Cindy September 20, 2010 at 7:17 pm

I’m with Linda at the top… on the edge of my seat and can’t wait to read the outcome! Thanks for sharing a fantastic story!


Malissa September 20, 2010 at 7:27 pm

The blog serial – a great art! Can’t wait.


Laura from September 21, 2010 at 5:33 am

Wow !!!
I have never thought of using a phsyic, definately will consider this !!!


Lynn Palermo September 21, 2010 at 7:37 am

I’m intrigued and I love your writing style.


Sheri Fenley September 21, 2010 at 8:21 am

OK now you are funnier than me and that has got to stop!!! LOL $30 huh? I may be easy but I am not cheap – $31.50 at least Kerry!


Kerry Scott September 21, 2010 at 8:25 am

With California sales tax it would probably be $31.50.


Sheri Fenley September 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

Well now I feel so much better. LOL I can’t wait to read the rest of the story. Make a me a believer !


Mavis Jones December 31, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Yes, I’m starting out the new year catching up on some blogs. After reading this, I’m thinking I might have to invest $30 a few times to try to crack a few cases. At this point, it’s like what have I got to lose.


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