Beloved Ones of God,
Peace and Blessings be with you from the community here at Khankah Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti in San Francisco. We will soon be honoring the 40th anniversary of our founding in May of 1975. As if in answer to a prayer, two of our sisters in this lineage are beginning an oral history project of men and women who are now elders in the story of the unfoldment of the universal message of Sufism in America. They will begin with the early stories of Khankah SAM. There will be more news of this later.
This new initiative is very much in harmony with the continuing research on Murshid Samuel Lewis' life for the biography project. When a small group of us came together to work on this more than a year ago, as the author I felt it would be important at the outset of the book to piece together a few significant facts about his immediate ancestors.
I wished to flesh out the real people, their relationships and values, and how their actions affected his life, feeling that readers will better understand this great teacher as a person by getting to know those in his family who set the stage for his life. The other choice was to leave untouched the virtual void that was known about them before.
Fleshing out significant information about his forebears, such as his great-grandparents, seemed very daunting when almost nothing was known, but it became a great adventure for us. We were called to develop the skills of this kind of genealogical research. At first we only hoped to turn over a few stones that might give us a few clues, but each discovery led us further on.
It was necessary to construct most of the early phases of the family history from what could be found in the public record. We relied on Federal and State Censuses, City Directories, IRS reports, passenger lists on ships coming from Europe and American ports, marriage notices, voter registration and naturalization records, archived material in University and public libraries, death certificates, advertisements, and the like. Newspaper stories added descriptive details to this data, especially when some family members attracted the eye of the law or of society columns. We also gleaned details from the press dedicated to theatre and the arts.
This information was blended in with the correspondence and family memories that survived, and now there is a plausible story to tell. In the course of our research, we were put in the role of myth-busters in relation to some family stories that had attained public credibility through being repeated over and over. One of these exploded myths was that Samuel Lewis' mother Harriet was related to the famous Rothschild banking family. There was no such connection, but our detective work revealed an amusing tale of how the myth may have begun. When such stories have their seeds in documentable history, it is proving fascinating to extract truth from the myth.
I am glad on this blog to be able to just touch in about the work we are doing—God-willing, you will be able to read it all down the road. Thank you for your prayers and your support.
Love and Blessings,
Photo credit copyright 2014 Mansur Johnson, All Rights Reserved