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.

Saving Family Heirlooms

I read a wonderful guest post on MyHeritage that you must read – Do Genealogists Care About Family Artifacts? Of course, the answer is yes, however, life often gets in the way of the “saving.”

My town has a wonderful antique district and I’ve been on the hunt for a demilune since May. Hubby and I have many much loved furniture that once belonged to families other than our own. I’m lucky to have purchased my guest bedroom furniture from an elderly woman who couldn’t take it to the nursing home with her. I promised her I’d care for it when I bought it in 1985 after we lost everything in Hurricane Elena and I’ve kept my word. I blogged last spring about the china cabinet I purchased from Craig’s List. A blended family didn’t have room for two. I know the piece’s history and its travels across the country with a military family. They know they can visit it if they like (it was hard for them to sell it but it was degrading in the unairconditioned 100 year plus garage where they were storing it.)

Some furniture I don’t know its history but would love to. When we first married, I wanted a rocking chair and found one in the classified ads of our then local newspaper. It was smaller than I had envisioned but the price was right – $10.00. It was also hideous – someone had recovered it in green and white gingham with lace glued around the edges. I stripped off the covering and discovered it had been covered several times. Two layers down was horsehair stuffing. After quickly taking that outside I discovered that it was originally caned. I had the piece examined and it’s considered a sewing rocker from the 1840’s. I couldn’t find anyone who caned so I bought a how to book from a craft store and ordered caning material. I can’t say I did a great job but it’s held up for 39 years.

My most favorite piece, though, I rescued from the basement of a house my grandmother rented out when I was 4 years old. I guess my interest in history and saving artifacts started quite young! I can’t explain why I was drawn to it. An old oak chest, it’s top cracked and stained and a piece missing on the back to give it support, it was forlorn sitting abandoned in a dark corner. The drawer and two front doors on the front were hand carved. Someone had painted the inside brown. When the renters skipped we discovered it left behind. Inside was a chemistry book according to my mom as I couldn’t read. I pitched a fit that the chest be brought home. I’m talking a full blown temper tantrum that I still remember to this day. My mom and grandmom were not going to give in to my behavior but I was adamant I wasn’t leaving unless the chest went, too. My grandmother drove a Chevy Nova and it certainly wasn’t going to fit in there. My wonderful grandpa tied it on the roof and my grandparents kept it in their basement. I had told them I would keep my toys in it when I visited their house but they were soon to move to another. They moved that chest to the new house and then a year later, back to their old home. By then, my parents had separated and I truly did use the chest to store my games as I went to live with my grandparents. In the late 1960’s my mom got a brilliant idea to spray paint the chest gold and put it in our bathroom. When my mom and I relocated to Florida in the 1970’s my husband’s family, my then future in-laws, kept it in their basement. After we married and bought a house, we brought it “home.” My husband stripped off the gold and left it unfinished. I’ve moved it three time since and it still contains board games. I’m thinking of finally getting it professional refinished.

My solution to the situation noted in the blog I recommend you read is to put stickers on the bottom of pieces that are of family history so when my time comes, the emotional distress of my surviving family members won’t cloud the stories of where the object came from. That way, family pieces can remain in the family for the next generation. Times a wastin’ – make a note of what’s important to you this week!