The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 5, 2012

Serendipity plays role in research


It was recently reported that Cathy Tyree, a woman in Richmond, Va., had discovered a “lost” photograph of her father in an antique shop. Her father had died in 1976 at age 51 and she was most surprised to find his photo while looking for some furniture to purchase.

Many genealogists have experienced similar coincidences and Henry “Hank” Jones has even written about many of them. His book, “Psychic Roots: Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy,” is based on responses he received from more than 100 noted genealogists around the world who were asked by him if they had ever had such experiences.

Many people who read that book wrote to Jones about their own coincidences and so he later wrote “More Psychic Roots: Further Adventures in Serendipity & Intuition in Genealogy.” It is truly amazing the number of persons who have had occurrences over which they had no control, which eventually led to helpful discoveries. Some may call it luck; some, coincidence. Perhaps such discoveries are made with a little “help from above.” It is up to each of us to decide.

Each of his books, published by the Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., can be ordered at or more inexpensively from Jones’ website at

Jones has been a professional genealogist since 1965 and is probably best known for his extensive work with Palatine genealogy and his book, “The Palatine Families of New York — 1710.” He also has had a career as an actor and entertainer; click on the link to his homepage, which gives details pertaining to his books, CDs and genealogy lectures.

On a personal note, I am pleased to have met him at a recent genealogical meeting and I am a strong believer in being prepared for the unexpected — whether it be a book that lies open on a library table (and has the information being sought), or a family memento that eventually is found in a rummage sale.


The word serendipity is not even defined in my 1946 Webster Collegiate Dictionary but a 1991 edition defines it as “luck, or good fortune, in finding something good accidentally” and adds that the word was first coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole in “The Three Princes of Serendip,” a fairy tale in which such discoveries were made.

An interesting website at contains remarkable stories supplied by others. Be sure to read, “An Unexpected Open House.” Do any readers have serendipitous stories to share?

Irish magazine

At one can read a free eMagazine that is due to be made available each month. As I write this, the July issue (number 2) is featured but the June issue is available as well, and includes an article about Annie Moore, the “first immigrant to be processed in Ellis Island when it officially opened on January 1st 1892.” Anyone with Irish ancestry would enjoy his interesting and helpful publication.

Queries, as well as a general exchange of genealogical material that readers would like to share, will be printed in the column for free. Contact Joan Griffis by e-mailing