The following is a true incident from my own research.
A few years ago, I was engaged in in-depth research on a particular family name in order to write a book about them. One individual was particularly well documented.
Reverend John H. TAGG was born in England in 1824 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1836 with his parents and siblings.. He was listed in school tax lists in Portage County, Ohio. He worked his way through seminary school and became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. His itinerant ministry is well documented at the Archives of Ohio Methodist Church at Ohio Wesleyan. In the early years he traveled on horseback to visit his various assigned churches, often crossing flooded rivers. Later he was reassigned to a new church every 18 months.
|This portrait of John Tagg hangs in the hallway of the|
United Methodist Church in Pomfrey, New York.
Finding this portrait was serendipitous. My sisters, daughters and I were visiting the Chautauqua region of New York. We stopped in the town of Pomfrey which was having a street market so we could lunch. We decided to get a meal that was being offered by the United Methodist church. Knowing that Rev. John Tagg had served in the area, I asked the lady dishing up our food if the church had any history on the preachers who had served the local churches in the 1800's. She asked me who I was looking for and I gave her John's name. "Follow me," she said. She led us through a circuitous root from the church's basement up to the hallway outside the current minister's office. There in the dimly lit hallway was a series of portraits of early preachers for the church. And there we found the above portrait of Rev. J. H. Tagg. We all got goosebumps. And all because we decided to stop for lunch.
John married a school teacher, Laura Ann Lilly, in 1846 and was listed with her in Portage County, Ohio in the 1850 census. By the 1860 Pennsylvania census, the small family consisted of the Reverend, his wife, Laura, 7 year old Alice and 1 year old baby “Clampa”. “Clampa” might have been a nickname because throughout the rest of her life she was known as Clara. The reverend lived a long life, finally dying in 1911.
|1860 West Greenville, Mercer County, Pennsylvania Census taken 11 June 1860.|
Clara’s life was also well documented, as she became a teacher like her mother. She rose through the ranks in Ohio schools, and spoke at many of the teachers' conferences in the state. She eventually became a principal, and after her marriage at a relatively late age, became a Cleveland Public School Board Member. At one time there was a Cleveland elementary school named after her.
|Picture from the 1 November 1924|
Cleveland Plain Dealer
But Alice? After the brief appearance in the 1860 census, she disappeared. She was not in any other census records. Her sister’s and her parent’s life stories and obituaries make no reference to her, as if she never existed. What became of Alice? Why did she disappear?
One evening while working on this mystery, my sister Sara called. She listened to my frustration with the lack of evidence. I wondered out loud if the young girl had a disability that caused her parents to send her away and never mention her, or if she died. My sister, who is NOT a genealogist, listened politely and made comforting sounds on the phone. We finished our phone conversation and I went back to my unproductive search.
Half an hour later, Sara called back, “I think I found Alice!” she exclaimed. “What?” “Where?” and “How?” were my confused responses. Just by using a different search engine (I had used Google, she used Bing), Sara had found a cemetery listing for Alice TAGG in Conneautville, PA, one of the many locations her father had served as a minister. She had died in October of 1860, just months after her appearance in the census records.
Serendipity? Or Something More?
The family and I planned a visit to the cemetery to confirm that this Alice TAGG was the one we were looking for.
We arrived in the early afternoon. The cemetery is a sprawling location on the edge of town. We drove around a little bit and parked. Knowing that the tombstone would be old, I headed for the older part of the cemetery. My family spread out to other sections.
After searching only about 1/2 hour, I located her grave. My family joined me at the stone..
We stood in front of the tombstone. I had brought a picture of her father and a spray of lavender blossoms. My daughter had made an old fashioned yarn doll. As we placed these items at the base of the stone, we noticed that the surrounding stones were all for older adults. No children's stones were nearby. I realized that Alice was buried among strangers. Her father's frequent re-assignments would not have allowed her to form great friendships. And she certainly wouldn't have known the people buried around her. The fact that none of her families records ever mentioned her made us very sad for the little girl.
Just then, about twenty feet away, a commotion erupted in some nearby trees. Glancing up to see what was happening, we saw 4-5 bluebirds cavorting in the trees.
Had Alice heard??
I have blogged about serendipity in genealogy research before: