Jason Wright: Lessons learned from a family history miracle
Have you ever met someone with a spirit, smile and faith so infectious you want to immediately introduce them to everyone you know? They are those special souls who radiate optimism and good news.
Meet Abigail “Abby” Hanson of Philadelphia. We crossed paths last week when I addressed a singles conference in Frederick, Maryland, and she swirls at the center of one of the most inspiring family history stories you’ll ever hear.
Hanson was born in 1975 in Accra, Ghana, to Emma, an unmarried teenage mom. Her maternal grandmother hadn’t been supportive and Emma was sent packing during the pregnancy. Then, at age 4, the same grandmother ordered Hanson’s biological father, Jarie, to take the child away and raise her elsewhere.
With the help of some extended family on her father’s side, including his twin sisters, they gave Hanson the best life they could given their difficult circumstances. In February of 2001, after years of American dreams, Hanson came to United States and brought with her a sense that big things were coming.
In 2012, Hanson began feeling drawn to family history work. She used genealogy tools online and began learning more about her ancestors. Her favorite tool was familysearch.org, but despite the joy she felt in connecting the branches in her family tree, something was missing. In the proper place, she’d added a photo of her father, but the spot for her mother remained blank. Worse, the square for her mother’s photo wasn’t the only thing empty, so was a little corner of Hanson’s huge heart.
Finally, in August 2012, using Facebook as her primary tool, Hanson courageously reconnected with her mother. At last she had a photo; it was the first time in 34 years she’d seen what her lovely mother had become.
After much prayer, she made one of the most important phone calls of her life.
“I first felt hesitant,” Hanson told me. “I grew up thinking she didn’t want me and I knew nothing about her except for her full legal name and date of birth. But then she called me ‘Baby-girl’ … She still does.” Her mother also took time to explain the meaning and origin of Abby’s given name: Abigail.
Her mother put any anxiety to rest. “I was blown away by her warm reception on hearing my voice after I revealed who I was. I had so many questions for her. She answered each one and more. I began to cry and felt such great joy. She never stopped thinking about me after all. My love grew for her immediately. It’s like I found myself and came full circle. The joy I felt is indescribable.”
Over the next year, filled with the spirit of family history work, Hanson gathered as much information as she could about her ancestors. In June of 2013, her grandmother, the same woman who’d separated her parents, passed away. Not knowing much about her, but still feeling sadness at her passing, Hanson called her mother.
Hanson learned that her grandfather had died many years earlier, leaving her grandmother with seven children at just 40 years old. “Their story of love and struggle really touched me,” she said. “I felt a special closeness and connection of love for my mom and her parents.”
At the same time Hanson was busy learning about those who’d passed away, she was doing a little matchmaking among the living, too. Hanson made sure that her father was invited to her grandmother’s funeral. There, Hanson’s parents met again after 35 years apart and feelings began to spark and sparkle once again.
“When my parents began talking in January 2015, my dad invited her to check out his church. My mom loved visiting and soon she received the missionary lessons. One month after I was reunited with my mother, she was baptized on April 11, 2015.” They now shared a daughter, and a faith.
Then, somehow, it got even better.
One week later, with their beaming daughter as a bridesmaid, her parents were finally married. To most, the story is an unbelievable series of fortunate events. But to Hanson, it’s long been in the Lord’s hands.
Before wrapping our discussions, which continued by email and Facebook after parting ways, I asked what she thought was the most important lesson she learned through her family history miracle. “I have no doubt that my grandparents also helped our family on this side. Only in the church can my story be possible. Family history and the church has indeed brought us together as one.”
Hanson adds that she’s not done yet. She looks forward to connecting her great grandparents and many more. “I want people to know about the wonderful blessings that come with doing our family history. Connecting and freeing our ancestors is such a blessing. It’s like we find ourselves as we find them.”
Maybe in Abby Hanson’s case, with her spirit, smile and faith, she did even more than that. She found a miracle.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at email@example.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com.