Friday, September 13, 2013

Serendipity in a Graveyard

Betty Martin was researching Samuel T. Foresman, Civil War veteran, husband, and father of three. Trying to find Samuel’s death date, Betty tracked him from Illinois to Michigan to Washington Territory. This is her story, in her own words:

“Through incidents too complicated to relate, I eventually discovered both Samuel and his father buried in the old Dungeness Cemetery in Sequim, Clallam County, Washington Territory. “But—there was no death date recorded on Samuel’s gravestone!”

Grave marker of S. C. Foresman
Photo credit: Betty L. Martin, Newberg, Oregon, [e-mail address withheld for privacy,] to, digital image of S. C. Foresman marker attached to e-mail, 29 July 2009, “The Ancestry Insider Serendipity”; privately held by the author.

“Still determined, I contacted the Clallam County Genealogical society via email and I persuaded one of the staff to photograph Samuel’s gravestone for me, perhaps to reveal some unnoticed detail… Unbeknownst to anyone else, the staff member went to the cemetery to take the picture.”

One day it occurred to Martin that newspapers might contain the information she needed. She sent off an email to the staff member with this thought. The staff member wouldn’t read the email until later. You see, that was the day she went to the cemetery.

“As she was taking the photograph of the gravestone, another woman whom she’d never before met, ‘just happened’ to come to the cemetery that morning also and approached her.  She brought copies of some old newspaper articles and gave them to the staff member, saying they did not contain any information useful to her on her own ancestral lines.

“The staff member took the papers, and while perusing them, discovered this at the bottom:

Death notice of Samuel T. Foresman
Image credit: Collage by the author from Weekly Argus (Port Townsend, Washington Territory), 22 May 1875, pp. 1, 3; digital images, ( : accessed 19 August 2013).

DEATHS.  FORESMAN.—At Dungeness, on the 14th inst. [instante mense—this month], Samuel T. Foresman, aged 33 years.  Deceased was a native of Michigan.  He leaves a wife and three children.

“That was him!”

Think about it. What are the chances of

  • the staff member going to the cemetery that day (unannounced), and
  • at the same time Martin having the thought that newspapers might contain the answer she sought, and
  • another lady showing up at the cemetery at the same time, and
  • the other lady bringing with her useless newspaper clippings, and
  • the lady approaching and starting a conversation with a complete stranger, and
  • the lady offering up what to her was trash, and
  • that piece of trash having the sought for information!

That, ladies and gentlemen, we call serendipity in genealogy. 

Sources: Betty L. Martin, Newberg, Oregon, [e-mail address withheld for privacy,] to, e-mail, 9 August 2008, “Serendipity Experience”; privately held by the author. Martin to, e-mail,  22 August 2013, “The Ancestry Insider Serendipity”; privately held by the author.

Thank you, Betty, for sharing!

If you have a story you’d like to share, send it to

1 comment:

  1. What ARE the chances?!? :o) GREAT story - thanks for sharing!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.