A Tale of Serendipity

This week, I got some interesting feedback from readers, and I thought I’d share this story of how, through a string of serendipitous events, David located several ancestors while on a genealogical excursion.

I have often had the pleasure of offering my help to other genealogists, in sharing photographs of their loved ones’ graves near my home back East, and in discovering the history surrounding their lives. In the dead of Winter it is comforting to explore Ancestry’s ever-expanding databases. When the weather warms, however, I yearn to discover in more concrete ways, the history of my family.
On a quiet Saturday in June of this year, I decided to drive the several hours northward from my home near Philadelphia to the Southern Tier of New York where my mother’s family lived long ago. There were several surnames and several towns, clustered among one another that I needed to find. I had found some of what I needed to know from Ancestry, but much of what I wanted was obscured by the quietness of these folks, and a dearth of written records in the family.
The one grave I knew how to find, was not marked by a stone. My great-grandfather left few tracks, and perhaps there were few who wanted to commemorate his life. His son’s grave was not far away, and so I drove to that town, and visited that cemetery. On such a beautiful day, there was a small crowd and when I stopped in hopes of turning into a different lane, there was another car. At that very corner, as I hesitated, I looked down to my left and I found the gravestones of my great-uncle and his wife.
My expedition to the next town’s biggest cemetery yielded several discoveries–less dramatic perhaps, but still connected to my family. Each helped me put a face to a record of some sort. I was thankful that my trip had not been in vain, and decided to head for home from Chemung, New York, back to Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
As I began to leave town in the late afternoon, I had second thoughts, and decided instead to go down CR 60 rather than straight back onto Highway 17. A few miles down the road on the right was a small cemetery. There was no driveway, so I parked along the shoulder and walked back to visit this cemetery along the riverside. Walking cemeteries is something I love to do, as do most genealogists. Within a few yards of the entrance I discovered my great-grandfather’s gravesite, and my great-grandmother’s beside his. These were people I have photographs of, but never met. Not far away were his parents’ graves, and two of his brothers’ graves, along with their wives. His dad served in the War of 1812, and went to the Southern Tier of New York to live and farm. I was literally on my knees after finding these folks’ graves that evening. I have no clue how I ended up at the Riverside Cemetery that day, but I have never felt closer to the family I found there. Lucky, lucky me!
The very best part of that beautiful evening in Chemung, New York, was the sense that these people who are my ancestors, deserve and desire to be rediscovered. Funny how they seemed to help me do exactly that.
Thanks Juliana,
David Dillman

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Serendipity

  1. This is such a wonderfult story. It has brought tears to me eyes. I am reminded of a favorite expression”what goes around comes around”. Sometimes wandering is very creative and fruitful. I read your great account just after emailing my requests to an ancestry seeker about my grandmother . This is a good sign. I am sure I will have wonderful results . Good luck. Never, never, never, give up. Winston Churchill

  2. This is a wonderful story of discovery. I think we, doing our family genealogy, have had some similar events. I like to think that in your story there was someone in the passenger seat saying “why don’t we take CR60 back home”. Since you started out at where your mother’s family had lived I would suggest that your mother was “riding” with you on that day or someone that was close to her. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Pat Bowen

  3. This is encouraging to me as I have a lot of family buried in up-state New York in the area of Syracuse, Oneida, Baldwinsville and environs. As I am planning a trip to the area in October I hope to find their graves as some of them also left very little in the way of paper trail. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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