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In family history research, and in life in general, I’ve always believed in the magic of serendipity aided by a good helping of paying attention. And always gratitude.

Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), my great grandmother

When Ancestry started waving its little green hint leaves at me about my mother’s first cousin, Bobby Oliver, I took a peek at a recommended tree and smiled to find a few photos of him. I remembered meeting Bobby once at my grandparents’ when I was a child. He was about my mother’s age and died in his forties.

Bobby Oliver (Robert Hugh Oliver, Jr. 1930-1976). Taken late 1940s?

As I explored the tree, I realized that it belonged to a relative of Bobby’s mother, a connection by marriage, and not a direct relative of mine. And yet…my attention was caught by the photo of a lady in round spectacles and a white-haired wig attached to the tree. It was my great grandmother, Emily (Wright) Oliver, but it was listed as someone else! Someone I wasn’t related to! I know this particular photo well. I have a copy of it. And the very Victorian brooch she’s wearing is in my jewelry box. It was definitely Emily and most definitely not this Anna person.

Misattributed portraits come up often on Ancestry trees. Oh, look! Ancestry waved it’s little hint leaf at me! Somebody posted a photo of great, great aunt Mary Sue! I’ll add it to my tree! And once a mistake is made, it can spread like wildfire. If dozens of other people have that photo in their family tree and they all say it’s Mary Sue, then it must be true. Ack!

But before harumphing too much about Emily being mislabeled as Anna, I wrote the person in whose tree I’d found it. To thank her for the wonderful pictures of Bobby. What a pleasure to find them! And, by the way, about that photo you’ve labeled as Anna…

As usual, courtesy (and persistence) is the best approach. It took two messages (not everyone checks Ancestry as obsessively often as I do), but when I heard back from Mary happy things followed. She corrected the misidentification. We shared family info relating to Bobby, who was also her mother’s first cousin. And, best of all, she had a family album with more pictures of my side of the family. Wonderful pictures of my grandfather and his brothers as children, of my great grandparents. I’m thrilled and grateful. And it turns out that Mary’s son lives in the same Pennsylvania town my daughter and her family just moved to. We’re going to meet up sometime and look at pictures together. Hooray!

So when the serendipity gods drop something into your lap, be sure you’re paying attention, and don’t forget to say a heartfelt thank you.


Daniel (1870-1952) and Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), my great grandparents

Kenneth Stuart Oliver (1898-1975) my grandfather

Alan Douglas (Doug) Oliver (1896-1983) Daniel and Emily’s son, my great uncle

Robert Hugh Henderson (Hugh) Oliver (1903-1979) Daniel and Emily’s son, Bobby’s father, my great uncle

Robert Hugh (Bobby) Oliver, Jr. (1930-1976) Hugh’s son, my first cousin once removed

Special thanks to Mary Witaconis for the use of these photographs. They make me happy.

A participant in the 7th Annual Genealogy Blog Party Potluck Picnic.