Genealogical Coincidences, Or Not? It’s a Small World After All!

Photo by Lori Samuelson

I’ve had a strange week. Last Friday I got approval to write a journal article on a unique family heirloom. I tried to make contact with the family who are the current caretakers of the object but the Facebook message link is broken and they didn’t answer their phone. I spent the rest of the day and most of last Saturday researching the heirloom’s purported history and how the family acquired the religious object.

Mid afternoon my husband asked if I could come outside and see something. My first thought was what broke now. I followed him outside and around the side of our home. Under the bushes was the rock pictured above. “Did you put that there?” he asked. I had no knowledge of it and immediately got goose bumps. I know that people have been placing decorated rocks around neighborhoods and in parks to boost people’s spirits during the pandemic but this was just odd. Who placed it there? Why? There was no note or sticker on the bottom. Our adult kids had no idea how it got there, either. I decided to go back to researching.

Later in the afternoon, my husband saw our next door neighbor in her front yard. He asked her if she had any idea where the rock came from. “Oh, yes, I was babysitting and thought it would be a good craft project.” Umm, sure. My husband explained that we were all confused as to how it came to be placed under the bushes. The neighbor said she was watching two little girls. One made a bumble bee design on a rock and the other, the cross. Our neighbor said, “I don’t know why but I thought of your family getting the cross and [another neighbor] getting the bee.” The other neighbor is a sweetheart – the most kind person you could ever meet. She really doesn’t do gardening. I don’t know, the bee better fits my personality lol! I love gardening and I can definitely give out a stinger.

So, this was all a coincidence that a religious symbol shows up in my yard within 24 hours of me researching religious symbols until two days later when the following happened…

I was volunteering at my local hospital when one of the employees related a story that had occurred the previous evening. In checking a visitor in through the lobby, she had forgotten to return the person’s driver’s license. A security guard said he would take it to the patient’s room where the visitor was headed. She had had a hectic day and a short time later forgot the guard was taking the license. She panicked when she didn’t see it on her desk. A student volunteer reminded her that the guard had taken it. She was embarrassed by her forgetfullness and still feeling tired, decided she would stand for a bit. Looking over in front of the computer I usually use when I volunteer, she noticed the object shown below:

The employee, not recognizing who it portrays, thought it had something to do with demons. She was partly correct; St. Michael was known for fighting demons. He was also prayed to during the first Black Plague after Pope Gregory the Great had a vision of Michael standing over Hadrian’s tomb in Rome slaying evil. When the plague subsided shortly after his experience, Gregory had a shrine built to St. Michael over Hadrian’s tomb which is still visitable today. Well, it would be if we didn’t have a pandemic and could easily go visit. Just sayin’.

Since the heirloom I was investigating for the article just happened to be about St. Michael I was able to tell the employee a little bit about him. Personally, I told her, I don’t think it’s a bad idea he just “materialized” (her words) in a hospital during a pandemic. If one believes in miracles, that would be a fantastic sign. If one didn’t, it was just a coincidence. I suspect that this was part of a key ring and somehow broke off when a visitor searched for their license. Miracle or not, it should go to the lost and found box.

I did take a picture for this blog since that was the 2nd weird happening since I began my research.

As I continued to research the family I noticed that the gateway ancestor who was responsible for securing the heirloom happened to get his social security card in Indiana. My husband and I are from Indiana so I said to my husband, “Wouldn’t it be weird if he happened to have gotten it in Gary?” Neither of us recognized the last name as someone we would have known growing up.

As I further researched, I discovered that the man’s daughter had lived for a short time in Gary, but it was long after we had left the area. What a coincidence, I thought.

I still hadn’t heard back from the family and I did have a few questions and needed clarification regarding conflicting info I had found. I mentioned this when I was volunteering at my local historical society and one of the employees told me that a family member was her neighbor. She texted her and asked her to give me a call.

A week to the day that I left the voice message she called me and was absolutely delightful. After discussing the project and getting some of the information straightened out I asked her if she knew where her grandfather had gotten his social security card in Indiana. She said she wasn’t sure but suspected it was Gary, “…since he and my grandmother spent summers up there.” I mentioned that my husband and I grew up there and I spent nearly every Sunday in the summer at the Croatian picnic grounds. The Greek picnic grounds was close, as was the Spanish, Italian and Polish. Beginning in middle school, we would take shortcuts through the woods to visit classmates who were attending their ethnic groups’ picnic. I can’t tell you how many times I went to the Greek picnic ground but it was often. I will never be able to prove it but I must have been in the same place at the same time as the couple. Another coincidence – 50+ years later I happen to get the idea to write about their family heirloom. Geez, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if I knew that then and could have interviewed them before they died.

Yesterday I continued to do additional research and discovered another coincidence. Evidently, there is a ritual of praying for 33 consecutive days to St. Michael for the protection of the Church and it’s Supreme Pontiff (the Pope). I got approval to write the article and began my research on August 27th. Umm, the time period for the ritual is 27 August through 29 September. For believers, clearly this is another miracle. For the skeptics, I’m just good at identifying coincidences.

Miracles or not, you have to admit it’s a small world after all.

Eerie Happenings Occur When Researching Ancestors

Partial Clip from U.S., Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914, Thomas Thompson, digital image; Ancesry.com:  accessed 17 July 2021, image 402 of 440; citing NARA M233.

One of the things I love about genealogy is the weird occurrences that happen.  I had planned to write about a local mystery but two strange events happened to me this week that I think you’ll find interesting.

Last week, I blogged about The Forgotten Ones project for the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War.  While researching Thomas Charles Thompson I came across a document that may or may not be his father, Thomas Coke Thompson. 

These folks are my husband’s relatives and whenever I work on that line strange things happen.  The pattern continues…

The document I found is shown above.  Thomas Coke was known to be in the Albany, New York area at the time the document was made.  He married first, Elizabeth and had several children.  Only Thomas Charles lived to adulthood but died before Thomas Coke.  Census and death records state that Thomas Coke was born in New York City but I’ve never found a record for him or his parents.  The document above caught my eye because the same location, name used in other records (he never used Coke) and age.  What stood out to me was that he was a musician born in Great Britain. The Thomas Coke in our family tree was a ship’s carpenter when he moved to Chicago.

I forwarded the document to my husband’s cousins who I have met over the years through online research.  One stated she wasn’t interested.  Another thanked me immensely.  The third replied that she wished her mom was alive to see and ponder it – her mom’s birthday would be 2 days after I made the find.  I replied to the 3rd cousin that I had thought of her mom the prior week when I wrote to a colleague who wanted information for an upcoming book he was writing on cemetery re-internments.  In reviewing my notes I found an email from a cemetery that mentioned the 3rd cousin’s mother who had written to correct a mistake in the cemetery record. 

A few days after I emailed the 3rd cousin, she replied she wasn’t feeling that the document was for Thomas Coke.  After all, Thomas Thompson is a common name.  Although that is true, in the Albany 1830 US Federal census there are only 5 Thomas Thompsons in that area; 3 are Black, 1 is old and 1 is of the age of the man who enlisted.  What doesn’t fit is the name of the next of kin on the form (clip above not showing it).  No record of this individual anywhere and none of the cousins have heard of her.  Certainly more research is needed but for now it’s on hold until I’m able to revisit NARA next spring. 

The 3rd cousin decided to look through her records and found several photos from the 1860’s that she didn’t recall sharing with me.  One was of Elizabeth Williams, sister of Drusilla who had married 2nd Thomas Coke. 

At the same time 3rd cousin was emailing me the picture, I received another email that I had a message on MyHeritage.  I assumed it was a response for WW2 pictures as I had contacted a number of tree owners looking for photos for the Fields of Honors project in the Netherlands. 

I don’t know why but something told me to respond to the 3rd cousin after reviewing all my emails.  I logged onto MyHeritage and was astounded to discover a message from a 3 times great granddaughter of Elizabeth Williams.  She was thanking me for putting info on the tree. 

Before answering, I decided to check my personal email to read the 3rd cousins’ information.  That’s when I discovered the picture of Elizabeth.  I emailed both of my husband’s cousins to connect them and uploaded the picture to Ancestry, which is where my Main Tree is located.  That’s the tree I keep updated.

So, if that wasn’t enough of the eebee jeebees for you, two days later the following happened…

Summer is my family’s lean time as we don’t receive a paycheck.  Unfortunately for us, we’ve had some major expenses.  We had budgeted for the ones we knew about (replacing a deck, renovating the side yard) but not for others (reconstructing a coop, a plumbing issue we didn’t even know was a problem).  After shelling out a couple of hundred dollars to a pest control company to get rid of the varmints that had eaten the deck and coop and infested an appliance, a remembrance of my grandmother, Mary Koss, came to me.

When I was dating my husband in high school I was adamant I was never going to get married.  I had never seen a happy couple.  I’m serious – most of my older relatives were divorced or in miserable marriages.  One day after my then boyfriend left, my grandmother said to me, “You’d be a fool not to marry him.  You’ll never find anyone better.”  I know I though she was nuts at the time but you didn’t argue with Grandma so I didn’t respond.  She has proven to be right.

Grandma loved to be right and was not shy about making sure everyone knew she had predicted what was going to occur.  My thoughts of that day came about because my dear husband never ever has complained to me about spending money, even when it’s tight. 

This jogged my brain into calling our power company as I wanted to change our automatic payment method.  I tried to do this online but I was directed to call the company.  While waiting for a human, I decided to clean out my emails and I saw that Ancestry had sent me one with their latest record updates.  It happened to be for Ellis Island/Castle Gardens.

Since I had thought about my grandmother I decided to enter in her information which I’ve seen before. I just wanted to check if there was something new.  Coincidentally, the date my grandmother had arrived on Ellis Island just happened to be the day I was checking the record.

OHHH – weird – her birthday was coming up in 2 days and I hadn’t noticed before that she had made herself older on the form – claimed to be a teenager of 13 when she was still 12 for two more days.  That made me laugh.

But the weirdness doesn’t end there…The customer service rep came on the line and asked my name.  When I told her she responded by spelling my first name correctly.  No one does that as there is several ways to spell Lori.  I didn’t think much of that but as we got into the call she had to speak to my husband as she couldn’t find that I had access to the account.  This always annoys me but I put my husband on who told her he has given my information on several occasions and to please correct it for the future.  The customer service rep said, “There is someone else on the account, do you know who that could be?”  My husband asked me and then it hit me – it was probably my birth certificate name that I never use.  I gave the woman that name and she said, “Yes, that’s it.  I didn’t think you were the same person as my mother is named (with your birth certificate name) and my aunt with the name you go by.”  So, this explained how she could spell Lori correctly.  I told her that I always asked my mom why they named me as they had when they called me something else.  My mom’s reply was that she didn’t know, I was supposed to be named Patty Ann after her friend but when she looked at me after my birth the other name just popped into her head. She never met anyone with my birth certificate name and can’t explain why she thought of it.

After years of doing genealogy, I was shocked to learn that my father’s family was from a European province that is the same as my real name.  I doubted my mom would know that as she had always told me my father was Germany, English, Scotts-Irish and Welsh.  The province is not located in any of those areas.  I know he never knew of the province as he always told me his ancestry was German and British.

I  thought maybe my mom had heard the name and it was somewhere in her head where the euphoria of childbirth brought it forth. Now, because of what next occurred, I’m thinking that is a real possibility.

After using the Ancestry.com search for my grandmother, grandfather, great grandmother and great uncle I decided to try to find my great grandfather who had emigrated before his wife and two children.  I had a little trouble in that I was entering Croatia as his birth place.  I should have left that blank.  It finally dawned on me he would have said Austria as that was the country at the time.  My grandmother, a vocal almost teen ager and being for Croatia separation from Austria-Hungary, had stated she was from Croatia so I just didn’t think initially to change it.  It made sense he would have provided different information as he had been in the Austrian Calvary.  (HINT TO SELF-When searching, try to think like the individual that provided the record information and not what you know of the individual). His information  tells me he didn’t think of himself as Croatian first; he had allegiance to the governing country probably due to his military service..

When I found my great grandfather Josip Kos’ record I was astounded to see that the ship he sailed to America on was my birth certificate name.  Wow!

I had seen the document before but it never clicked. My great grandfather died during the previous pandemic and I had just thought about him when I got my pneumonia vaccine last week.  He got the flu but died of pneumonia.  Although my mom was a baby when he died, perhaps she had heard this ship’s name and recalled it for who knows what reason when I was born. 

Or, just maybe, he whispered it into her ear and she wrote it on my birth certificate. 

Who knows?!  All I can tell you for sure is that I just really enjoy these creepy coincidences.  Christmas in July? Nope, with my family I’ve got Halloween early!

Genealogical Patterns – Are They Meaningful?

02/02/2020

Happy Palindrome Day!  Happy Ground Hog Day!  Happy Candlemas Day!  Happy Midway between Winter and Spring Day!  Happy 33rd Day of the New Year with 333 Days to Go!  Happy Superbowl Sunday!

Probably like you, most of those designations of today I don’t intend to celebrate but they are fascinating to me that someone, somewhere noticed a pattern. I bet you’ve noticed patterns in your genealogy research, too.  

When discovering information about a newly discovered relative I’m always struck by the significance of a date I find.  Hmm, I think, that person married on my birthday.  Wow, that ancestor was born on my anniversary.  Seems like such a weird coincidence but mathematically, it’s not.

Think about this – there are usually 365 days in a year (except for the few years like this one which is a Leap Year).  If you’re comparing days of similarities between a newly found ancestor and your own vital dates, you’re actually increasing the odds.  Think of it this way, you’re comparing your birthday and marriage to someone else’s birthday, marriage and death date.  When I think about adding in dates for my close family, such as my spouse, children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, it’s not a coincidence at all that dates are shared.  

If you’ve noticed this phenomenon and want to do the math yourself, check out this statistic site:  Same Birthday Odds.

I wish I had time, however, to actually compute seasonal births and deaths in my direct lines.  Although I could be wrong, it seems like there are more births in the spring/summer and more deaths in the fall/winter.  My mom was the first to make me aware of this family trend when my grandfather died in October 1970.  I asked her why that occurred and she said she didn’t know but had drawn that conclusion based on her grandparents’ deaths in winter and knowing she attended more funerals during those seasons.  I guess that stuck with me and as I’ve tabulated vital data for my family I see what she means.  Both my parents died in the fall; most of my grandparents and great grandparents did, too.  Only my paternal grandfather (August) and maternal grandmother (June) didn’t follow the death pattern.  

Then I came across a study that looked at data from a developing country and found that the trend was true. Then I found another to support the first study but a different one showed variations by country.  I also found an interesting study that showed, in the U.S., people who were born in the fall had a significant increase in living longer than those born in the first half of the year.  Who knew?!

Since the next palindrome day won’t occur for 101 years (12/12/2121) I’ve decided I’m putting aside my genealogical research on this sunny cold day and savoring the moment!  Looking backwards can wait another day. 

Unexpected Results of Having My DNA Done


Just read a wonderful article from NPR on dealing with DNA’s unexpected results that I highly recommend – read it here.

I’m still receiving emails from my matches. Yesterday I got an email at 10 AM from a descendant of Samuel Samuelson and as I was responding, I got another email from a descendant of Samuel’s wife, Maria Swanson. I happily connected the two folks who kindly responded to my initial query. I just love those kinds of coincidences! Think about this, both send me a response within minutes of each other and after 150+ years, reconnect. Very weird!

What was even more awesome was that one of the emailers mentioned that his 100+ year old great aunt is still alive. I strongly urged that they share the info I sent. Hopefully, the photo of that woman’s grandfather will spark some memory that can be recorded before it’s too late. That was certainly an unexpected result of having my DNA done. I never thought I’d find someone who was still alive who had personal knowledge of those living in the 1800’s.

Here’s another result that I never anticipated – I’ve connected with a great grandson of one of my husband’s aunts who didn’t know his great grandmother. We have wonderful memories from when we were teens of this lovely lady and I shared via email some of the kind things she did. I’m sure he’ll pass the information to his own children someday and I just love that the connection will go forward. Happy Hunting!