It’s 11/11, Veterans Day in the United States. For many New Agers, seeing all ones on the calendar or clock has an angelic meaning, especially at 11:11 on 11/11. In fact, I just happened to be awake at 1:11 this morning and took a screen shot on my phone. Today, however, I’m reminded of something that happened over a hundred years ago — the celebration of Armistice Day and the end of WWI — and I’ve got a marvelous story to tell about synchronicity and an honored ancestor.
My mom’s paternal ancestry is wholly Scottish and her grandmother Helen’s little brother, Buchan Littlejohn, was my second great uncle. Helen raised Buchan and her four younger siblings after their mother died when Helen was fourteen and Buchan was seven.
Buchan joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers shortly after WWI was declared. A Lance Corporal, he was wounded and sent home in July 1915. He spent eight months convalescing before being sent to France in March 1916. He was killed in the attack on Bayonet Trench, Battle of the Somme, October 12, 1916 and buried at the A.I.F. Burial Ground in France.
As both parents had died by that time, Helen was listed as his next of kin on his military records. The military dispersed Buchan’s belongings to her and their other siblings.
When my husband, brother and I visited Scotland last summer, we made a special point of digging up as much information on Buchan as we could find. As there was no local grave to visit, we climbed a steep hill in Dreghorn to find this monument with Buchan’s name on it. He’s listed here with other young men from the area who were killed in the “Great War”. He was only 24.
Short of taking a trip to France to visit his grave, I thought that was the end of the information I could find about my great-grandma’s baby brother. I was wrong.
A few months ago, I found a message in my Ancestry.com inbox from someone named Rita, asking if anyone in my family had ever lived in Tacoma, Washington. She and her husband Roger had found something on their property there, when building their house fifty years ago, and had always wondered how it got there. With the advancements in technology since then, she was finally able to make a real effort to track it down.
What they had found was a Next of Kin Memorial Plaque (also known as a Dead Man’s Penny) with Buchan’s name on it. While this made me tingle with excitement, I had no idea how it could have gotten all the way to the far west coast of the United States.
Helen and her family emigrated to Utah in the early 1920s. She would have received the plaque, as next of kin, in 1919 when they were awarded by King George. She would have brought it with her to Utah, where they settled in the coal mining town of Castle Gate, Carbon County, where three of her older brothers lived and had risen in rank to be foremen and supervisors at various mines in Carbon County.
Helen died shortly after arriving in the States, at the tragically young age of 39. Her husband died six months later, leaving their kids orphaned. Their children all eventually ended up in Michigan. None ever lived in Washington state.
Rita and I corresponded for months, trying to solve the mystery. I chased down all sorts of loose threads on Ancestry.com. Some brought me to Washington state, as a few descendants of Helen’s brothers went west, but no one ended up in Tacoma.
Finally, a breakthrough happened when Ancestry popped up one of their famous “green leaf” hints. I discovered that Helen’s oldest brother’s daughter eventually settled in Tacoma, just a couple miles from Rita’s house. This brother, as head of the family in the US, must have assumed ownership of the plaque after the deaths of Helen and her husband. Helen’s niece, I assume, took possession of the plaque after her father died.
That’s as far as my search took me … just a few short miles away from Rita’s property. Further digging, though, showed me that the niece divorced and remarried. Her new husband just happened to own the property adjacent to Rita and Roger’s new land but because the niece took on her husband’s name, and no longer lived there, there was no way to connect the last name “Littlejohn” to anyone there.
As the niece had no children, the ancestral lineage stopped there. Rita, who has become a good friend, kindly and generously sent the plaque to me, and it hangs in a place of honor in my home.
It may have been my imagination, but the first time I held the plaque in my hands, knowing that it belonged to my great-grandmother — the only one of my great-grandparents I have no picture of — I swear I felt a ripple in time as I ran my fingers over Buchan’s engraved name. I’m quite sure Grandma Helen did the exact same thing, at least once.
Thank you, Rita and Roger, for helping to close the circle and bring Buchan’s memorial plaque back into the family, where he is still remembered and honored.
Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first is entitled The Poppet Master (previously published as Be Careful What You Witch For!, now revamped and with a new ending). The Poppet Master is a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. The Poppet Master is available wherever books are sold. Its sequel is in the works.
Lisa is also writing The Maxwell Curse, a fictionalized version of a story she found in her own ancestral lineage about a witch trial, a generational curse, and massive mine explosion, all of which left ripples of destruction in their wake, devastating one family’s tree.
- Best seller—Fear of Our Father—#1 True Crime
- Two Excellence Awards—MSNBC.com
- eLit Silver Award—The Menhattan Project—Humor
- Includes foreword by Neale Donald Walsch—Shape Shifting
- Featured on Investigation Discovery’s TV program Catch My Killer