My Great-grandma Josephine Romero Lindsey Smith had 11 children. Four of them died between 1885 and 1900 and were buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in San Francisco. That Cemetery was exhumed in the 1930s and most of the bodies were moved to mass graves in Colma to make room for the living. Wednesday night I'll be staying in SF it turns out almost right on top of where that cemetery used to be. That land which once held my great-grandma Josie's beloved dead, where the family would have gone with picnics so the living children could remember their dead siblings seems a perfect place for me to be as I continue this journey with cancer. When I realized the serendipity of it I was touched that the land already holds tender love and affection for my family line, as if they will be there to greet me and hold me that night, and I can remember them, both those who died so young (at birth, 7 months, 4 years, and 8 years) and those who lived on to grieve them. Gratitude to the Spirits of the Land of San Francisco, particularly that neighborhood, for holding the memory for not only my family but so many others as well.
It is no secret that we witches are deeply connected to the cycles of The Moon. We use lunar cycles to make decisions about planting and tending herbs for healing, food for nourishing our families and communities, and what kind of magic is appropriate to do personally, communally, or politically.
Right now The Moon in waning, going from bright and Full when she sits directly opposite the Sun in our sky, to completely hidden when She passes between the Sun and our home here on planet Earth. She is always there of course, but it is our perception our perspective that changes how much of Her we see. As witches we know that whether She is fully visible or completely invisible to our eyes, She is still there, powerful, beautiful, mysterious, our ally and partner in our magic.
And so this weekend as she wanes I will be working with seven other dear witches at my home to do a ritual of releasing and transforming a particular sad and painful ancestral legacy that has been in one of my familial lines for generations. A legacy of cancer.
For two years I have been uncovering a story that was hidden like the Dark Moon but still held great power over many generations of my family. This legacy comes from my great-grandma Josephine Romero Lindsey Smith’s line, has passed to her grand daughters my Aunt Hazel and cousin LuEllen, and on to my generation touching my cousin Albert and his son, AJ, and now I find has been growing in my own body.
Two years ago I begin working on researching a book about Great-grandma Josie. I had only one small court document hidden away for years by my Grandma Winnie telling the story of her family living in a refugee camp in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, a sad story of her mother Josie dying of “a cancer of the throat” and the children being placed in orphanages.
Since then I have uncovered a long and rich story of Josie’s life as a child and youth in Alta California on Romero Hill in Spanish Town (near present day Montecito), then marrying and moving to San Francisco in the early 1880s. I have lived with her through the 1880s and 90s, and through to her death in October of 1907 through census records, newspaper articles, documents discovered at the California Historical Society in San Francisco and SF History room at the Downtown branch of the Library, hours of internet searches, history books, and novels of the times. As a witch I have tranced and danced and dreamed her story continually since I first discovered her. She has been coming alive in my DNA, in my collective ancestral memories, in the tilt of her head, the wildness of her hair, the depth of her eyes passed on to her children and their children, and their children, and sadly through the cancer cells each subsequent generation also grew in our bodies.
I feel deeply called to do this magic of legacy releasing. To fully see, acknowledge, mourn, and then release and transform this particular part of great-grandma Josie’s legacy while continuing to hold dear her life story and vibrant ancestral spirit.
I feel especially called to do this because I am a witch, surrounded by other kind, compassionate and powerful witches. I feel especially called to do this because I discovered that I was born in a hospital in San Francisco on October 23rd 1959 that came to be through the merger of several hospitals including the one where Josie died on October 25th 1907. I feel especially called to do this because I discovered that the new Mission Bay Campus of UCSF Medical Center where I began the journey of my own cancer treatment was built exactly over the spot where Josie and her family lived after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. I feel especially called to do this because my cousin LuEllen, from another part of the state and I ended up at UCSF on the same day at the same time, she ending her treatments, me going into them, both of us determined to change the outcome of the story. I feel especially called to do this to honor Josie, who died of “a cancer of the throat”, my Aunt Hazel who died of a cancer in her throat, my Cousin Albert who died of cancer in his face and neck, my cousin LuEllen who survived and Albert’s son AJ who survived, and my current experience of cancer in my face and neck. I feel especially called to do this for all of us and for generations of descendants.
And so on Sunday I will gather physically with six witches and one from a distance astrally to do magic under the waning Moon, to do magic of ancestral release and healing. Our intention will be: "With love and compassion we see the ancestral legacy of cancer in Lizann's family and body and release it to be transformed by The Elements with gratitude for the wisdom it gave.” We will call on my dear allies The Moon, the compassionate Jesus, his mother as The Virgin of Guadalupe, The Celtic Goddess Brigid, the Norse Trickster God Loki, my ancestors and all their descendants. We will ground, cast a circle, open ourselves to the transformative power of Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Center/Spirit/Mystery. We will chant and drum, pour libations of whiskey, and trance and dance and laugh and release this multi-generational legacy with gratitude for the wisdom it gave.
If you would like to join us in this work and magic in spirit I invite you to light a candle, pour a shot, say a prayer, kiss a beloved from anywhere, anytime because what happens between the worlds is timeless and knows no bounds of geography and I and my ancestors would be grateful to you for adding to the magic.
Blessings on all our ancestral legacies may we come to release and transform the painful parts, and embody the joy and wisdom of the whole of it.
The significance that for the past two years I have been researching and writing the story of my great-grandma Josie who died in October of 1907 of "a cancer of the throat" and that I have now been diagnosed with squamous cel cancer in my cheek and two lymph nodes in my neck is for me profound. There is a multigenerational legacy of ancestral trauma in my family, one that I now see, and am working to transform. Until I began to uncover great-grandma Josie's story I had no idea that I had been born in October of 1959 at a hospital which traced it's roots back to the same hospital in San Francisco where she died in October of 1907. Until I started working on this story I had no idea that the UCSF Mission Bay hospital where I will have my surgery to separate my cancer cells from the rest of my body was built directly on the same spot that my great-grandma Josie and her family (including my grandma Winnie) lived in a refugee camp after the 1906 earthquake and fire which destroyed their south of market neighborhood. This will make one hell of a last chapter to the book I am writing about my great-grandma Josie and finding her story and living how this part of her story, her DNA, this painful part of the legacy impacted her descendants (my Aunt and cousin died of similar cancers). It is my intention to honor the lives of my great-grandma Josie and my Aunt Hazel and my Cousin Albert in the living of my own life, and to transform this multigenerational legacy of trauma.
Research for this book has sent me down some interesting topics. After a mention that a swarm of earthquakes that plagued San Francisco in the 1890s may have been triggered by the billions of metric tons of earth washed into the bay from hydraulic mining in the Sierras in the 1880s putting intense pressure on the existing fissures and faults, I began reading about human induced seismic incidents (human caused earthquakes) all over the globe. It turns out the building of dams and subsequent weight of the reservoirs/lakes they create are a common trigger resulting in some particularly devastating earthquakes in China, and the 1975 Earthquake in the Oroville, CA area. Oklahoma and other US states have experienced swarms of human caused earthquakes more recently because of practices related to the oil and gas industries. Who knew researching a book about my great-grandma in the late 1800s would result in my spending hours on science and government geological sites looking at human induced seismic incidents. May our species learn to tread a bit lighter on this earth.
Working on Josie's story finds me immersed in the politics of San Francisco and the USA in the 1880s and 1890s - how did I not know that in most of the States in the American West women got the vote as early as the 1890s, way before the 19th Amendment in 1920 which finally gave all women over 21 the vote? Shout out to Wyoming by the way which came in as a State with the right to vote for women in their constitution and had given women that right in 1869 when it was a territory! In California it was 1911 after an amendment to the state constitution failed in 1896 because the Liquor Association convinced men in the cities to vote it down (the rural areas voted overwhelmingly to give women the vote, but like now there are more folk in the cities which generally carries Statewide politics). Reading the newspaper accounts at the time it looks like poor women, like Great-grandma Josie in the South of Market slum worked for that 1896 ballot initiative even as many poor men opposed it. Blessings on all the women and men who worked tirelessly for decades to give women the right to vote. May I never ever take this history for granted and always exercise my hard won right to vote.
Spent the evening reading "A Report Upon a System of Sewerage for the City and County of San Francisco" from 1899 as research for my new book. No surprise that the slum where my great-grandma Josie and her family lived at the time had some of the worst conditions which contributed to routine epidemics of "sewer" related diseases that claimed the lives of countless poor children and adults. It is amazing to me that even now in 2017 poor rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods are still far more likely to have water and sewer related illness and deaths because of politics. Blessings on the descendants of those who lived to find better conditions, blessings on those still living with horrible health conditions based on income.
At first I didn't even know she existed. I had a sad court document that said my great-grandpa David had run his step-daughter out of the house, but the only step-daughter listed in another document I had was Virginia Lindsey, age 6 1/2, who was removed from his care and placed into an orphanage, so I assumed it was her. I continued to dig and find information about my great-grandma Josie's family with her first husband, Alex Lindsey. The 1900 census gave a list of all the children living at that time, and I was introduced to Margaret Lindsey born 1893. More digging found that she'd had an older sister and brother who died before she was born, and an older sister who was killed in a terrible street accident when she was 5, and that her father died when she was 8. For a long time I thought she'd died in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire because I could find nothing more about her, no matter how hard I looked into old newspaper records, census data, or marriage and obituary listings. It was not hard to simply imagine that she was just one of the thousands of deaths that went unrecorded because the city officials were trying to downplay the magnitude of the disaster in their quest for investment money to rebuild.
I was so relieved to finally find her mother, my great-grandma Josie's obituary from October of 1907 and see that Margaret, who I had come to think of as my Aunt Maggie, was listed as a surviving child. She was 13. I cried with joy that she hadn't been burned to death in the rubble of her neighborhood. Then I realized that she must have been the step-daughter run out by my great-grandpa David. I could only imagine the possibilities for a 13 year old orphan among thousands of poor working class people still in refugee camps a year and a half after losing their whole life in the Earthquake and Fire. I kept looking for evidence of her, but assumed the worst, that she ended up on the street, that she ended up dead with no record like so many poor young girls. I found myself mourning my Aunt Maggie, someone who I hadn't even known existed.
Then yesterday I stumbled on the photo image of a small, tattered, and much hand-edited document indicating who was to receive the Union Navy pension of my great-grandma Josie's first husband, Alex Lindsey. My great-grandpa David (the same one who had run Aunt Maggie out and had all the minor children, including his own two, taken away from him) had returned to the court in 1908 to make sure they knew that his step-children were eligible for their father's pension. Scrawled across her name on that tattered piece of paper were the words "now Lind."
From that tiny clue I have now found more about Margaret Lindsey, "now Lind." At 13 years old, just days before her mother died in October of 1907, Aunt Maggie married Edward Lind, who was ten years her senior. They had five children: Edward, Evelyn, Albert, Myrtle, and Virginia. They lived in San Francisco, then Seattle, and seemed to settle in Los Angeles. During The Depression she worked as a power operator at a flag factory. By the 1940 census she is listed as divorced and working as a floor woman in retail services. Her household consisted of herself, her divorced daughter Evelyn Armstrong (who owned her own beauty parlor), her other divorced daughter Myrtle Mueblavauen (oh I love that name!), and Myrtle's three children: Barbara, Roy and Virginia.
Blessings to you Margaret Lindsey, "now Lind," my strong and resilient Aunt Maggie. I am so glad to know you existed and that you didn't die all the horrible deaths I'd feared for you. It sounds like you had one hell of a life and were an amazing woman.
In 1890, 1900 and 1910 on the US census form these two questions appeared: "Mother of how many children?" "Number of these children living?" While my country's infant and child mortality rates have declined since the government began tracking them, they are still painfully high among poor families. Thinking this day of all the mothers, like my Great-grandma Josephine whose answer to those questions in 1900 was 8 children, 4 living. Blessings on all those around this world who live with such grief.
I have spent the day doing research on the tenements where my great-grandparents lived in San Francisco prior to their South of Market neighborhood being completely destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire - in their building and most of the building around them there was no water, and there were no windows, no skylights, no ventilation of any kind, no wonder my great-grandmother died of throat cancer at age 43 - I can't even imagine the level of cooking and kerosine smoke she must have inhaled daily! There is this wild idea that San Francisco didn't have the same kind of tenements and slums that many other cities had around the turn of the 20th century but that is just not so - it's just that the evidence of them were completely destroyed. I am mindful that there are places like that in our world even today - may we as a species work together to change that.
After over a year of research, both historical and deeply spiritual, I'm starting to write my next book based on the life of my great-grandma Josephine Juarez Romero Lindsey Smith (Josie) and her family. They lived "South of the Slot" in San Francisco in the late 19th century and through the 1906 earthquake and fire. She had 11 children, seven of whom lived to be adults. Her life had been forgotten but now she lives and speaks through my heart and imagination and DNA. Please wish me well as I start the writing part of what has already been a remarkable relationship with Grandma Josie and her life and spirit.