Many years ago I was at a meeting for a lineage society I belonged to and one of my friends was telling the story of a research experience she had recently had. She found herself researching at a Family History Center about 7 hours from her home. The particular center had a large microfilm collection and my friend decided to take advantage of it since she was traveling through that city. At the center, she had been scrolling through microfilmed records all afternoon and in a fit of frustration (these were the days of microfilm, afterall) she made a disgruntled sound. The researcher sitting next to her struck up a conversation and as they talked she asked my friend what surname she was researching. My friend replied with the name of the ancestor she was trying to find and that random stranger, in a city that she just happened to be traveling through, said to her.
“I’m related to that ancestor too.”
Now this wasn’t a famous ancestor or one with a multitude of descendants. It was just your normal, everyday, ancestor that was about three generations removed from my friend. This total random, happy finding has a name. Serendipity.
A definition of serendipity is “the fact of finding interesting or valuable things by chance.” It's no surprise that genealogists have some interesting tales of serendipity. In fact they have so many that at least three books detail these stories. Psychic Roots: Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy (Genealogical Publishing, 2002) and More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy (Genealogical Publishing, 1997) by Henry Z Jones, Jr explores stories from genealogists worldwide who have had experiences that have helped them in their search for their ancestors. Megan Smolenyak has also written about serendipity in family history research in her book titled, In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and Connection. Her books is described as “over 100 true stories of the amazing luck, unexpected kindness, and unusual serendipity encountered by researchers as they explore their roots, In Search of Our Ancestors offers an inspirational look at the rewards of family history.” And let's not forget Kindred Voices: Listening for our Ancestors by Geoff Rasmussen.
Genealogists tell of times where they have spun the microfilm handle to have the microfilm stop at the exact page where their ancestor is listed. Or the book with the needed information falls from the library bookshelf right as they walk by. Researchers might tell you that they believe their ancestors want to be found and that they help to make sure that happens. You can read other researchers stories by perusing the books mentioned above and the Serendipity links on Cyndi’s List.
Have you had such an experience? I will admit I’ve only been lucky enough to experience these random research miracles a few times or so but I have been fortunate enough to help others have a serendipitous moment in presentations such as the time I provided an example using a cigar factory in Evanston, Illinois and the women who worked there and found out that an audience member, who admitted my presentation wasn't her first choice, had just helped a woman trace an ancestor who worked at that same cigar factory.
Serendipity and genealogy is out there. Whether you call it divine guidance, intuition, or just plan luck, that assistance can be most welcome when researching difficult ancestors. August 18th is National Serendipity Day and a good time to think about our research finds that were “happy accidents” and carve out some time to research in search of a few more lucky finds.
For some feel good viewing watch Genealogy Serendipity - Listening for Our Ancestors by Geoff Rasmussen.
 “Serendipity,” Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/serendipity: accessed 30 July 2019).
 “In Search of Our Ancestors: 101 Inspiring Stories of Serendipity and connection in Rediscovering our Family History,” Megan Smolenyak2 (https://www.megansmolenyak.com/in-search-of-our-ancestors/ accessed 30 July 2019).