Friday, May 27, 2016

Serendipity in Graveyards and Digital Scans

Cemetery photograph by the authorIt is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidences. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracles. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”

Several of you have shared serendipity stories in response to Margaret McCleskey’s cemetery story. Since not all my readers see the comments, I thought I would repeat some here. The first is from an anonymous poster:

I've had a couple of these cemetery experiences. The first was 20 years ago looking for the graves of my aunt and uncle. I was driving a convertible with the top down and was leaving the cemetery because I was unsuccessful at finding them. It started raining so I got out to put the top up, happened to look at the grave stones on the ground next to me when I was getting back in, and there they were. I was shocked!

The second time was two years ago in South Dakota. I found my grandparents graves the day before, but was unsuccessful at finding my great grandparents, who I knew were buried there also. I discovered when I stopped at a gas station to fill up with gas the next morning that I had apparently lost my wallet. I went back to the cemetery to see if I could find it, and found both sets of great grandparents and a lot of great aunts and uncles I didn't remember also being there. This with the assistance of cemetery workers who hadn't been available the day before, but just happened to arrive while I was there. I also found my wallet in the back seat of my car, where I had slept during the night since I was short of funds. I believe I was called back.

Another is from Joan (Myers) Young.

While going through Hampton Reformed Cemetery in Hampton, Adams County, PA, I was looking for the graves of my 2nd grandparents who I already knew were buried there. The surname is MYERS and those familiar with this area will understand that about half of the surnames in that cemetery are MYERS. I searched and searched and could not find them. I told my husband we might as well leave for our long drive home because it was getting late and would be getting dark soon. On my way out of the cemetery a bird flew right into my face. It was a Killdeer defending its nest. The bird forced me back to get away from its attack...and I ended up staring directly into the inscription on my grandparents' stone, with the names as plain as could be. Had it not been for that Killdeer I'd never have found them. Somehow I feel they wanted to be found and reached out to me in the only way they knew how...through that bird.

Margaret Rutledge shared another:

Serendipity is amazing. I was helping a distant relative who wanted to find a marriage record in a New Jersey town's records. My local family history center had the film in its library, so I volunteered to find it for him. When I looked at the film every page was ripped, blotched and stained and the film images were so dark the words were almost illegible. I dutifully made digital scans of every page anyway. I randomly picked a page to attach to my e-mail to illustrate how hard it would be to find anything in them. To my absolute amazement, in the middle of my screen appeared the very marriage record he was looking for.

That is serendipity.


  1. Sister Jennifer Low was called from Colorado to serve an LDS mission. Because of her Russian heritage she had studied the language extensively in high school and college and hoped for a call to serve in Russia; however, when she opened her envelope she was called to Argentina. Although initially disappointed, she willingly accepted the call and gave faithful service.

    After being in Argentina for a while, she and her missionary companion were tracting (going door-to-door), and found an old man who didn't speak Spanish. They tried English, but no luck. Sister Low's companion spoke another language, and tried speaking to the old man, but no luck. On a whim, Sister Low tried Russian, and he was all excited to find someone who spoke Russian, so let them in. They started visiting, asking where he was from in Russia, what his name was, and to their surprise, they found that he was her grandfather's long-lost brother, both of whom had fled from Russia during the Revolution. He was married and had a family; and both families rejoiced to have reconnected. He also had some genealogy (family bible and so on) that Sister Low's family didn't have and he allowed her to copy all that he had, unlocking lines that had been blocked to them.

  2. I love these posts about miracles of serendipity. Thank you

  3. A few years ago, I was searching for my 3X great grandfather in a large municipal cemetery. The office had given me a map and told me where to look. I searched for a couple hours with no luck, when back to the office and was told the same thing. By now it was getting late in the day, but I decided to give it one last try and went back. As I was going up and down the rows, an elderly gentleman who had been mowing all afternoon approached me and asked if he could help. I told him who I was looking for (first name John).. He immediately replied "Capt. Jack is not in here; come with me". He took me straight to the marker I was seeking in a completely different area. Capt. Jack had been a Union officer in the Civil War and this was a cemetery in the south where he relocated after the war. The gentleman who helped me happened to be African American.

  4. I just had an experience with 2 Frank Smiths in WWI France and a found dog tag it was written up here

  5. Not my family, but I was placed perfectly to help somebody else out. A lady was in front of me in the photocopy line (yes, this took place just a FEW years ago) at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. When she left, she forgot a book. I started photocopying my pages but I also looked at the book left open. It was about an area I was very familiar with. When she came back I asked her about it. Turns out she was trying to find out something on a place that she thought was in Utah. I knew exactly the location she was interested in because it had come in to my grandfather's grandpa's family and stayed with them until it was turned into a Federal Monument and my grandfather was the first custodian of the place. So I was able to direct her to the actual state (AZ), locations of likely church records, and names of others who were there around the same time frame as her family, something not as likely to have happened easily before the internet was popular.


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