Category Archives: encounters

The Day I Was on a National TV Show

Now I’m an Expert?

Sometime last year I was contacted by the production company that produces the Travel Channel Show The Dead Files. I had never heard of it before. I was told that they would be filming an episode in my town and wondered if I’d be interested in appearing on the show as their genealogy research expert. Now, that doesn’t happen every day, does it?

While the show is about paranormal activity, my part had nothing to do with that. I was just the “expert” who talks about the history of the people involved. Genealogy is my thing, and this sounded like fun so I agreed. The film crew kept referring to me as the expert. “Bring your expert in now.” “Have the expert sit here.” And so on. So weird, let me tell you!

I should add here that the show’s “experts” do not get paid. The really nice producer named Jeremy did buy me lunch, though, at The Mexican Place. (Not the actual name of the restaurant, but everyone who lives here will know what I’m talking about because that’s what we call it.)

About The Dead Files

If you haven’t seen the show before, here’s a quick summary. This year is the 12th season by the way, so it’s been around a long time! Basically, someone contacts the show and says they have some paranormal activity in their home and they need help. There are three segments to the show.  Steve DiSchiavi, a retired New York City police detective comes to research what’s going on from a detective-type point of view. He talks to “experts”, collects information, and then talks to the family. The second part involves a medium named Amy Allan who does a walk through of the house to see what she senses. I’m glad I had no part in that. It’s not that I don’t believe in the supernatural, I do. Jesus spoke to demons. They are real. But yeah, that’s creepy. No thank you. Anyway, they really do this in the middle of the night. That part you see on the show is true. Then the third part is where both Steve and Amy meet with the family. They each individually discuss their findings and then Amy tells the family what they need to do to rid themselves of this activity.


What I Did

Jeremy discussed with me what they’d found out and asked me to look over it. We discussed the research over the phone. I can tell you, they really do put in the research for these programs and double-check, using a lot of genealogy techniques I’m familiar with. They aren’t making this stuff up. It’s true that truth is stranger than fiction. Even so, some information wasn’t discovered, or at least revealed to me, until the day of the filming. That was because they were continuing looking for new information.

It was a hot Saturday in August. I was nervous, but Jeremy practiced with me until I felt confident I could remember all the names, dates, and details they wanted in my interview with Steve DiSchiavi.


Steve is a really nice guy. All the crew were very nice, polite, and patient. It was quite the experience. I’ve done television interviews on baseball topics and on my books before, but this, a full-fledged television program, was different. I kept saying, “This is just not my world.” Steve said, “It’s your world now!”

We met at a bar. We had water in our coffee cups. There seemed to be cameramen everywhere. I welcomed them to Ohio. They said they’d actually been to Ohio a lot. There is apparently a ton of paranormal activity in Ohio. Had I heard of a place called Springfield? Uh, yeah, I have!


I had the cord of a mic slung down under my dress and I sat on an extra cushion on my barstool because…yeah, because I’m so short! All the bottles at the bar had to be turned so that the labels didn’t show. The whole crew had to be completely silent during the filming. My glasses pushed up just right on my nose. Little details like that fascinate a novelist like me!

I made some mistakes. They just shot those parts over again. Sometimes an idea came to the producers so they decided to have me say something different. Sometimes Steve ad libbed something that he decided would work better. And there was the time I handed Steve a death certificate and he just smiled and handed it back to me. It was actually an obituary so I had to do that over again. They kept telling me I did great. They were super encouraging. At the end I told them I knew that I appeared terrified but I actually enjoyed it. Both Steve and Jeremy assured me that I did not look terrified. If I had, they would have done it over. They even asked if I’d be willing to do it again if they came back this way. Well, apparently that’s a possibility since it’s Ohio!

Season 12 Episode 5

It airs Thursday, February 27th on the Travel Channel. I have YouTube TV and the Travel Channel is on there now. There are other services if you don’t have cable, but you may not be able to see it right away.

I hope I don’t look dumb!

I don’t know who the family is. You’ll find out when I do. I do know the location of the house. Not because they told me, but because I don’t totally suck at research. I hope the people there are not truly in distress. I hope they find what they are looking for. There are two families mentioned in my part of the research, families who used to live on that property. Some are buried in the local cemetery. The oldest family name mentioned on the show is buried there too. I came across that plot by accident when I went to the cemetery to find the grave of the woman I mention in the show to pay my respects. I do hope she’s resting in peace. As a Christian, I also hope that God brings all those involved in this episode some peace, the peace of Jesus.

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

I hope not really. I’d rather be remembered for my books. Research is my passion, though, and seeing how this show goes about researching was fascinating. Seeing a national TV program filmed was educational and fun. I’m pleased they asked me!

The Pursuit

The Journey of a Book

4222f-img_0583Writing is a definitely a creative pursuit, but it’s not all about creating an entertaining read, although it is that. It’s about a journey, a process, a growing and ever-changing trek through the publishing wilderness. And believe me, it is wild out there. I have talked before about my seven years in the writing desert. During that time I thought I was wandering hopelessly about, but in fact there was a plan and Brigid of Ireland would not be my only novel. It’s that uncertainty that makes a writer’s life a journey.



Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson

When my advanced copies of Grace’s Pictures arrived, I thought my wandering in the writing desert was over.

The Detours

The thing about journeys is they are usually unpredictable. As soon as you decide you know how things will be, they change. This can be upsetting. People don’t like change, not much anyway. This perspective is sometimes altered by taking a trip. Take for instance these photographs below from my 2013 trip to Ireland. We were visiting St. Brendan’s Cathedral in Clonfert. We went looking for that because I’ve been intrigued by St. Brendan’s journey for some time. I’d seen photographs of this lovely building, and it was a wonder to see up close.

IMG_1132 IMG_1133

But then, just a few steps away, I spotted this.


We went inside after those ladies there were finished and followed the path. It wove around in the woods and past a few spots where children had left toys. A sort of secret garden? And then…IMG_1152

It led to this view. Something we would have missed had we not stopped off on this detour.


This is only one example. The BEST experiences in Ireland (and probably in many other places) is taking wrong turns and even getting lost because there is so much beauty around every corner.

The best experiences in the life of a #writer are the detours. Click To Tweet

We Are Never Truly Lost

Not if we keep looking up! A wise writer friend with tons more publishing experience than I have once told me how excited she was to find out what God had for her next. And she was sincere. I thought I’d never get to that place, but today (and it is one day at a time) I’m moving in that direction. It’s very much like life. We can plan, but we don’t have control over everything. And often, the best things are experiences and circumstances and meeting new people that we would never have imagined.

What’s your journey been like thus far? What are you looking forward to?

Books by Cindy Thomson

Writing Globally

Recently on Twitter I saw this picture:

On Twitter

American Politics Abroad

And it immediately reminded me how many people we met while in Ireland who asked about how we felt about the Clintons or about Obama or Bush. They wanted to know how Americans felt, and I quite honestly said that I didn’t feel right speaking for all Americans. Perhaps it’s the size difference in countries or how they view politics. I just didn’t understand it. So, when I saw this, I posted a response saying how I didn’t understand why other countries jump into our politics.

Maybe I should have worded it differently. Maybe it sounded snooty. I meant it literally. I didn’t say this but looking at that tweet I wondered… “their” candidate? As I said, I don’t get it. And for me, I dread the upcoming election. I’m tired of politicians and their games. Why would you want to get into this when you didn’t have to? (I know lots of people are politically active. No criticism intended.)

And then I got this:

On Twitter


Woo. I tried to keep the conversation going, saying, no, I am puzzled. But David, it seemed, was finished. I’d been judged.

To Whom Does a Country Belong?

To Whom Does a Country Belong? Click To Tweet

And of course, this got me thinking some more. I have never claimed to be anything but American. We know because of a current ethnic denial that the public looks down on this sort of thing, for the most part. I know I’m American. My research has shown my family has been in America long before we were even a country, about 150 years before in one line. Sometimes at book signings people ask me if I’m Irish and I reply that I have Irish roots way back.


How do you define your ethnic connection? Does it matter? Author Cindy Thomson discusses on her blog. Click To Tweet

So why write about a country that you personally are not from? Well, if I wrote about Kansas, where I was born, I wouldn’t know much about it. I only lived there the first three months of my life. I haven’t done the research. But I have researched Ireland because of my genealogy search and just because it interests me, greatly. Is that wrong? I never thought so. I still don’t. David on Twitter was just spouting off. I’ve met plenty of people from Ireland who seem to appreciate my work. My first two Irish books were published by a British publisher. They didn’t mind I was American. If you research, you can write about any country in the world, and in fact, by doing so you help enlighten the people in your own country, who will be primarily the ones who read your stuff anyway.

I have a friend who lives in Northern Ireland. Most of his writing is about Americans with Irish roots. He has traced their history here, and he knows a lot about it, more than most Americans know. He is writing often about his kin, those who left Ireland and came here, and I am doing just the opposite when I trace my line from here back there.

America is a Melting Pot That Some Want to Deny

Students at Ellis IslandA few months ago I was scolded by a Scottish man for claiming a connection to Scotland (He might have had too much whiskey because his posts consisted of scattered thoughts.) Well, it’s a historical fact that at least one of my ancestors was born in Scotland, moved to Ireland, and then on to America. I do have a Scottish connection, whether he liked it or not. (You can search for his comments here on this blog if you’re interested. I’m not going to link to it because….well, it was just silly.)

Here is where I think the misunderstanding comes from. The United States is by and large a country of immigrants. And as such, we identify with many other countries. In contrast, those whose families have lived in an area for many generations, as far back as can be remembered, identify themselves as wholly that–Irish, Scottish, French, German or wherever they’re from…and some of them have a strong dislike for Americans who seem to want to say they are one of them. They aren’t at all, in their minds. I’m all for pride in one’s heritage, but I think that’s taking it a bit too far.

Tom&Cindy Thomson, Ireland 2010

Our 2010 trip to Ireland, taking at Inch Abbey, County Down, Northern Ireland.

To be fair these people who pop up on Twitter or Facebook or even this blog are few compared to those who are welcoming, helpful, and interested in the stories from Americans about those who immigrated. I’m thankful for that. It helps lead to understanding and peace, no matter their political preference.

What do you think?

A Chance Encounter

I have met the most interesting people at Irish festivals, but at last weekend’s Dubin Irish Festival I did not expect this.

Listen, for you never know what wonders you may meet when you do.

It’s a lesson I’m continually learning. It’s way too easy to judge people by their appearance or mannerisms, or to not even notice them at all. When you are signing books in a tent with several other authors, spending hour after hour hoping you sell enough books to justify the time spent there, you notice people but maybe not for the right reasons.

The good reasons, the most valuable way to spend your time no matter where you are, is to look for who God may intend for you to meet and to respond. It’s not an easy thing to do at times. Let’s be honest. Some people go against the grain, grating on your tired nerves. But…listen when you have the opportunity, because if you don’t, you might miss something special.

An elderly couple came to my table, which was squished up against author Brenna Briggs’s books for young girls, mysteries involving an Irish dancer named Liffey Rivers. Brenna is a friend of mine. We’ve done these Irish festivals together before. (If you know of a reader in her target audience you should check out her books.

This particular couple intently studied a couple of my books and then some of Brenna’s. Brenna asked if they had children or grandchildren. They didn’t, but were still interested. The wife decided to buy a book from each of us. Then the husband commented on something he had seen in one of my books, Columcille. At Gethsemani, south of Louisville, Kentucky, the Irish brothers were often given the name Columcille.

Oh, right, that was where Thomas Merton was, Brenna and I remembered. We talked briefly about the man and his writings and soon it became clear that the man at our table knew quite a bit about Merton.

Thomas Merton, known as Father Louis.

“Did you know him?” Brenna asked.

“Oh, yes. He had a serious side, but he was very funny.” And he went on to tell a few stories as we signed books for his wife.

It turned out this man had been a Trappist monk at Gethsemani with Thomas Merton. I believe he said he was there for seven years. He obviously had moved on to other things, including getting married to the woman standing next to him who he said was “older”—by three hours, he joked. They’d been born on the same day.

Photo by Jay Paradis

We never would have imagined this man wearing dark sunglasses, a fishing hat, and a wide smile had been a monk or had met one of the deepest spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century, a man this fellow called “The greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth century.”

I felt blessed by the encounter and deeply honored that this couple planned to read one of my books. Our brief conversation reminded me that even those we look up to and perhaps stand in awe of are in fact ordinary people whose lives touch ordinary people who in turn move through life touching the lives of even more ordinary people, but often in extraordinary ways.

Thomas Merton (Father Louis) at Gethsemani

Gethsemani’s web site states: “Intently and joyfully, we live the mystery of Christ-among-us.” That’s the way to live, don’t you think?

I’ll keep trying to listen. I’m looking forward to the next surprise meeting!

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” ~ Thomas Merton