Serendipity...genealogical discoveries with a little help from above.

Found in The Georgia Room

by Wiliam W. McCollum

My e-mail address is
and I live in Columbia, Maryland.

This really happened to me

I began to do family history research in early 2000 and, following good advice, interviewed living relatives to get as many facts as possible. They were hard to come by because my father's mother died in childbirth in 1925 when my father was three years old. He and his younger brother were cared for by relatives until my grandfather remarried in about 1930 and he knew (or would admit to knowing) very little about the family.

I obtained my grandfather's death certificate from his home state and was rewarded with the names of his parents and their birthplaces. I immediately planned a trip to the county in Georgia and set up shop in the local library's "Georgia Room," where they maintained local history and genealogy reference works. I had just about exhausted the official records when I came across a shelf of church histories, one of which had a picture of my great grandfather and a short summary of his ministry in the Baptist church association in the area.

More than satisfied with this breakthrough and ready to leave, I casually asked the reference librarian if there were other references available. She pulled out an indexed reference to burials in the county, which was kept behind the desk because it was out of print and was their only copy. I went to the index and copied the relevant pages, formulating a plan to visit the cemeteries to try to determine family relationships based on the groupings of the graves. Ready to take the next step, I removed the book from the copy machine and the pages flipped back from the "M" section to the "E" section...the name "McCollum" jumped off the page at me!

The context was an epitaph that read, "F.E. Ellison, Mother of W.E. McCollum." She was my great great grandmother and it had her birth and death dates. Knowing her age, I was then able to locate her family in the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses. She was a single parent who gave birth to my great grandfather in 1867 and lived, with her son, in her parents' home until their deaths in 1883/1884. She didn't marry until 1885 and was buried with her married name.

This serendipitous piece of critical information has allowed me to trace my line to 1657 in Scotland. Along the way I have located the graves of seven generations of my family in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and New Jersey, where my immigrant ancestor arrived in 1720.

There are still many unanswered questions about my line, but I've learned from this experience to seek out reference librarians and ask if there are any reference materials not readily accessible to library patrons.

Submitted:  Sept. 12 2001

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