When Hope and History Rhyme

One of my favorite poems is “The Cure at Troy” by the late Seamus Heaney, which reads in part:

History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

I was reminded of Heaney’s insights because of a remarkable turn of events a few weeks ago.  After years of sleuthing, as detailed in my post “Crowdsourcing History,” I was finally able to locate William H. Ellis’s grandchildren (and great-grandchildren) in Mexico.  This happy discovery set in motion a reuniting of the larger Ellis family, which had been divided by not only the U.S.-Mexico border, but by other divisions of time and distance and forgetting.  From my outsider’s perspective, there was something magical about watching a family circle that had been broken for almost a century come back together, and I congratulate the family members on both sides for being so welcoming of one another.

I was supposed to go to this extraordinary family reunion, which took place in South Pasadena, but at the last minute got sick and could not attend.  But I am hoping that it is just the first of many such get-togethers and that I’ll have many more opportunities to better know both sides of the extended Ellis family.  I would add, too, that for a historian it is often hard to tell what effect our research has in the real world.  But in this case, at least, there was a very concrete knitting back together of a family, which in its own way felt like a very tangible achievement.

Image: To help convey their history, members of the LA branch of the Ellis family created an illustrated family tree, as seen in the bulletin board below.




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