Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Genealogical Serendipity

SERENDIPITY: the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

I believe in genealogical serendipity -- it's happened to me more than once. Today I'd like to take you on a trip back to the technologically different days of the year 2000 when serendipity came to me in a big way.

In 2000, there were no smart phones and no tablets. Most people used desktop computers, as laptops were expensive. PDAs like my Palm Pilot were more common and I had a pager. Remember pagers? If you did have a laptop, internet and e-mail access from a hotel meant using a slow dial-up connection. From our perspective in 2013, that seems like the technology middle-ages!

That year, I spent a week in a hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in mid-December. Ice and snow turned driving into a nightmare. Waking to six inches of snow one gloomy morning, I opted to take a vacation day. The company computers were behaving nicely, and I had my work laptop and pager and cell phone if the boss needed me to dial in for a crisis.

How would I spend the next 16 hours? The vast wasteland of daytime TV was not attractive, especially with the hotel's limited channels. So I decided to trudge through personal e-mail folders and do some clean up.

You know all those e-mails you plan to read someday? The newsletters on crafting, genealogy, technology, business, or home design. Everyone wants to send us newsletters and they just pile up. I use filters on my e-mail -- behind the scenes Yahoo looks at the subject or the sender and drops new email into folders for me. I don't even see many newsletters unless I look at the folder.

That day I decided to just start at the newest genealogy newsletter and go back in time. I opened one, skimmed it, checked any interesting links, then deleted it. Rinse and repeat. After just a few, I saw an item that stopped me.

A gentleman named Jeff had created a website that was an electronic copy of an old family book on the Pefley family. Hmmm. I had seen that name before. I looked at the family tree that I carried in my Palm Pilot and there it was. A family member (a collateral line) had married a Pefley. I did want to find the death and burial information for the parents of Mary Hannah Bosseck Pefley.

These books on a particular surname are very hit and miss, but I had time. That slow dial-up made the website unusable. I e-mailed Jeff and he kindly sent me a copy in Word format right away.


I searched for the name Bosseck inside the book and was puzzled at the first find.

  • [person] 663 -- Elizabeth Rettinger (dau. of No. 7) married ... Christian Peter Bosseck (see No. 1424). Issue ... Mary Hannah Bosseck ... (Perhaps others).

Wait a minute. Why is Elizabeth Rettinger in here as a daughter of someone and where are all the other Bosseck children? I'm just looking for information on Mary and her husband. I remember my utter bafflement. I searched for the next match on Bosseck.

  • [person] 1424 -- George Mangus Pefley (son of No. 1324) married ... Mary Hannah Bosseck ... (see No. 663) ...

My head was spinning. I went back and forth between the two, the only references to Bosseck in the book. Finally I took out a piece of paper and started to draw a bit of a tree, following the son of ... and daughter of ... links to parents and beyond.

The Tree Grows

When I reached the top, I was amazed. I had five new generations to add to my tree. I, myself, was a descendant of Nicholas Pefley, person number one in the book. Mary had married her second cousin once removed!

I had not been looking for anything other than where Mary had died so that I could find her grave and maybe an obituary. I was looking simply for the graves of her parents, my 4th great-grandparents.

Not only did the book provide a place of death for Mary and five new generations, it also yielded a Revolutionary war veteran (DAR-worthy) and an understanding of the ethnic and religious roots of this Swiss-German branch of my family, along with their migration patterns.

I visited Mary's grave in eastern Kansas the following year. The graves of her parents, my ancestors, are two markers away from hers.

Pefley photo courtesy of Julie Wollard Trout. Recollections digital kit by Joanne Brisebois Designs for Digital Scrapper (formerly Scrapper's Guide)  

The Cycle Continues

I added Mary's husband's ancestors to my database, as well as my own ancestors. That recently paid off. I was able to suggest this book to another person to further their research on one of George Pefley's ancestors named Graybill.

Thanks to a miserable snow day and a genealogy newsletter, serendipity brought me a book I would likely have never looked at otherwise. And serendipity allowed me to pass it on when I saw the name Graybill and the location Ladoga, Indiana, in the tree of another researcher.

Watch for those gifts -- I know the universe has some for each of us.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I do love these serendipitous occasions! And love hearing your stories...