I travelled from State College to Petrolia in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania earlier today to visit my family’s original farming territory and cemetery. There are at least 70 ancestors and relations at rest there, many of which are documented here. It was founded in 1812, and it felt right to return for the first time in seven years. The latest burial occurred in 1995.

It’s indescribable what it first felt like to come upon a place like that—to encounter your family name and history in such a personal way and later come to know their individual stories. There have been many spellings of the family name over the years, especially in the 19th century—Shakley, Shakely, Sheakley, etc. The immediate area seems to still be populated by relations of various degrees, and there are a few different roads with the family name there.

The historical information we have indicates that American settler Michael, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1754 and became a naturalized British citizen in 1763, homesteaded about 430 acres after serving in the militia in the War of Independence. Michael settled the family in Armstrong County, and my branch of the family traces our history to Henry Shakely, one of his sons. Henry and Elizabeth, his wife, are two of those buried at the cemetery. Elizabeth’s father Nicholas Alleman also served in the War, and I owe my membership in the Sons of the American Revolution to him.

It’s worth visiting the past every so often. Learning to carve out sacred spaces for encounters with the past can help shape the future. I’ll be back.