Genealogy Gems from the Mary Smith Fay Library

 by Barbara Hughes, White County Historical Society


Genealogy Gems from the Mary Smith Fay Library as they appeared in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2002 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Barry Cleveland, editor, "The Carmi Times."


According to Webster's New World Dictionary, the word "serendipity" was coined by Horace Walpole, an English letter writer and author in the 1700's. The definition of serendipity given by Webster's is "an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally." Horace Walpole wrote a tale called "The Three Princes of Serendip," who evidently made such discoveries. Serendip was today's island of Ceylon, an island off the southern tip of India. In a genealogical sense, serendipity refers to the disclosure of pieces of one's ancestral background by accident or happenstance.

Mrs. Lecta Hortin, Director of our own Genealogy Library, told some stories of incidents that had happened right here that would lend themselves to being serendipitous or coincidental. She tells of one occasion when two ladies from Mt. Vernon, Indiana, visited the library and heard another lady from another state mention a surname. She said this began a flurry of activity which was very exciting for them. As they continued exchanging their information, they found they were all related. They were each able to fill in deficiencies in their research and made lots of copies to take along on their trips back home. I bet they had tales to tell about their experiences and the happy contentment they felt about this happenstance.

Then recently there were two men who came into the library, one from Fairfield and the other from Havana, Illinois. As they each recognized the other's voice, they discovered they had both visited the Utah Mormon Library the week before. Now they were in Carmi to do more research. We also had a couple and a lady they had never met,  all from California. What coincidences!

Lecta Hortin has her own story that lends itself to serendipity. There was a couple named Vernon and Maxine Curd from Searcy, Arkansas. They had been corresponding with another library volunteer for some time, trying to trace the Curds and Clarks. On the day they came to visit the library, Lecta was there. She soon understood they were looking for the marriage record of a Hettie Clark to a Curd. Now it seems that Lecta's great, great, grandmother was Minerva J. Clark who was a sister to Hester C. Clark, born in Lauderdale Co. Alabama. As they further checked for other records, they concluded collectively that Hettie and Hester were probably the same person. Thus, they were distantly related.

Melvin Hortin, Lecta's father-in-law, had a saying he especially enjoyed: "If you had to walk or ride a horse, you date close." In other words, in days gone by, one usually would date your neighbors. I suppose that's why it used to be so much easier to participate in sizeable family reunions. However, you never know when you may encounter a "next of kin," whether it be by accident, coincidence, or serendipity.
You could find such a happenstance at your local genealogy library!

The Genealogy Library located at 203 North Church Street is open from 11:30 - 4:30, Tuesdays through Fridays. Address letters to the Mary Smith Fay Genealogy Library, P. O. Box 121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois ILGenWeb page is Cindy Birk Conley

Copyright © 2002 by Cindy Birk Conley, all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information.