I’ve written an entire book of genealogical serendipity tales, but have been something of a wallflower in this regard. With a couple of cherished exceptions, these magical moments of happy coincidence have mostly eluded me in the course of my research, but my dry spell just ended.
Like so many last year, my family lost loved ones, including my Aunt Bea, and due to the pandemic, her memorial service was delayed. When it took place last week, the family — gathered together for the first time in who knows how long — tended to overdue business, including divvying up her jewelry. The plan was to rotate through her children from oldest to youngest with each picking pieces to remember her by, so everyone spent a few minutes looking at the collection beforehand.
One item — a small, metal square on a ribbon — provoked curiosity. My sister who was also present suspected it was a mourning locket. Prying it open, they discovered two photos. One was recognized by all as Aunt Bea’s father, the grandfather of most assembled, in his WWI uniform. The locket, it was agreed, must have originally belonged to Aunt Bea’s mother, our nana. But who was the woman in the other photo? No one — including six members of my generation — knew.
But they knew who to give it to. I’ve been the family genealogist since I was about ten years old. Every family has one. Even as you were reading these words, you were thinking of either yourself or that cousin or aunt or nephew everyone knows is obsessed with dearly departed relatives. Luckily for me, there was swift consensus to send the locket my way (thank you, cousins!).
When my sister called to tell me of the mystery woman, I couldn’t wait. Could she text a photo of the photo? As you see above, yes, she could.
And I knew. Instantly. I was looking at my great-grandmother, Mary Agnes (Murphy) Reynolds. I can’t claim to be a super-recognizer, but after years of staring at old, unlabeled family photos, I’m better than most. So I knew that this was my nana’s mother even though I have just one picture of her.