Serendipity sometimes happens as you research. Serendipity means the discovery of something beneficial or wonderful that happens out of the blue. This leads to the question, are you a lucky genealogist? I know several who are and I confess to envy and frustration when I hear of their moments when luck opened doors for them.
My friend Nina Brawn, who wrote the prize-winning column Family Searcher for this paper, swore to me that she once accidentally knocked a book off a shelf in the Maine State Library. She swears that when she picked it up she found it open to a page with information she’d been trying to find for some time on one of her family lines.
My cousin Peter once grabbed the wrong microfilm at the State Archives and as it was approaching closing time he decided to skim through it on the wild chance of finding something of value. Sure enough he found records that broke down a brick wall the two of us had been trying to break through for years and revealed a divorce in the family.
If these two examples don’t have you beating your head against the wall, my friend Kelly carries trash bags in her car to tidy cemeteries that are neglected. She recently came on one in a town with no connection to her family. She ended up at the foot of a stone in the back of the cemetery and there was a long-lost, many-times-grand uncle and his wife’s burial plot in a town she’d never known they had moved to.
I have to admit these three examples make me want to grind my teeth in frustration. These genealogists have paid their dues with lots of hard work, but the chance findings seem to point to a charmed existence. I’m not a lucky genealogist. Everything I’ve learned about my family tree has come through long, hard, sometimes discouraging research, except when Peter shared his find on the family divorce, of course. If you’ve had one of those serendipitous moments, I congratulate you. If you’re like me and you listen to these types of stories with a silent growl, I can relate to your feelings of despair. “Why can’t these things happen to me?” you may well ask.
The point of all this is to encourage you to keep trying. While some genealogists do seem to have the most amazing luck, most of us are plodders who come to our information through good old-fashioned hard work and perseverance. That means lots of days of researching with nothing to show for it except eye strain and an aching neck from bending over books. I want all of you who are plodders to remember that even if lightning doesn’t strike in your genealogy research, hard work does pay off eventually. Don’t give up — and be sure to smile when you hear stories from a lucky genealogist, even if you have to clench your teeth to do it.
Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in Dover-Foxcroft with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.