Sunday, March 1, 2009

Do someone a favor by asking for a favor

I'm really into genealogy. Though it goes in phases, when I'm into it, I can stay up every night for weeks pouring through old census records and out of print books on 19th century Virginian families, of which I've yet to claim a link. I've traced my roots back to 17th century Maryland, Ireland, and Scotland, 18th century Holland, 19th century France and England, and both 20th and very early 17th century Spain.

I was recently in Estepa, in the south of Spain, the town from which my great-grandparents emigrated to Hawaii in 1907, thanks to a promise of steady employment in the sugar plantations there. After a couple of random emails to city government offices in Estepa, someone gave me the email of a guy who shares my last name but is no relation, as far as we can tell. But he was very friendly and
welcoming, and since I was having a miserable time getting any help from the archives and civil registry, I asked if he might have some advice.

But instead of advice, he called a couple of friends, went to a couple of churches, and went digging through the archives for me himself. He wrote me a few days later that he had found the baptism records of my great-grandfather and his siblings, and of his marriage record to my great-grandmother, all of which had been quite beyond my reach. And he enclosed copies. It was so above and beyond the call of duty that it made me and my Dad (who had come to Spain to do genealogy with me) feel amazingly fortunate, and genuinely touched that a complete stranger would be so kind and generous.

Thanks to his research we were able to walk by the house where my great-grandfather (my dad's grandpa) was born, where he lived when his sister and brother were born, and where he lived with my great-grandmother before they got on the boat that brought them to the US. He also brought us to a museum of the church where my great-grandparents probably got married and showed us the fount where two great-uncles were baptized. It was very special.

The other day, my newfound namesake wrote me a note and asked if I could help him find some friends in the US with whom he had lost touch. I was so happy to have a chance to help. Plus I love a good search challenge... Google is my friend. Two of the friends were easy to find but the last one required a wild guess, which turned out right. It made my day. In fact, it made me so pleased to have been able to help that I smiled to myself all day long and thought about the nature of favors and strangers and karma.

You see, when he was doing all those nice things for us, it almost felt uncomfortable, like how could we ever return the favor? And though we thanked him profusely I also wanted to assure him that I was a good candidate for random acts of kindness because I actually do tend to do them myself, but it sounded so hollow in the abstract.

How nice that he gave me a concrete chance to say thanks. So, make someone's day today: ask them to do you a favor!


  1. That is so cool! Both the ancestry discoveries, but also how you ended up being able to help him connect with friends as well. I actually had a similar situation happen a few years ago via a cooking website ~ what a small, small world!!

  2. What a great accounting of a favor. Love it. It has been my experience that we get back a lot more than we can give. It favor seems to multiply on its way back.
    Truly enjoyed this article. I check your site every day....Bob


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