Serendipity is my favorite word* for four reasons.

First, it just feels very cool when you say it, all soft and serene and then curvy, like those great windy roads my dad used for “swerving” when we were kids and my brother and I wanted to slam into each other without getting in trouble.

Secondly, it was the name of a kid’s book (and then a series of books) that I loved. A tiny girl dragon who does something good . . I don’t really remember the story; I just remember loving the book – I mean a girl dragon, awesome, right?.

Third, the word was created by Horace Walpole from the old name for Sri Lanka – Serendip. (Just learned that one today, thank you Wikipedia, and yes, I did double-check my sources).

But mostly, I love this word for what it means – “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way” (OED) . . . or as I say it, a delightful surprise. . .

Yesterday, I experienced total serendipity. After finding the local library was closed on Thursday (who closes a library on Thursday?) I turned to the county courthouse to search wills, records, marriage certificates, and probate cases – all those tools that historians and genealogists use to pin down some facts about people.

I was just into my first Will Book when a woman came in and set herself up with the Probate Records across the standing desk across from me. Clearly, we were doing similar work (No one scours these massive tomes for fun.). As we chatted through our scanning, I found out she was doing research on her family, people who had been enslaved in Hale County and who were owned by two prominent families in this area. I told her about my research, and we chatted away the morning. A kindred spirit.

Then, a man came in and took pity on me. He realized I was looking through the indexes of every single Deed Book (I’d exhausted the wills by that time) and that I’d be there until 2013 if he didn’t help. He handed me the comprehensive index and then asked me who I was looking for.

Before I knew what was happening, he was making copies of maps for me and showing exactly what tracts of land formed the two plantations I was looking for. Then, he introduced me to a woman there in the courthouse who owned one of those tracts of land. Finally, in the piece de resistance of serendipity, he cleaned off the passenger seat of his dusty pick-up and drove me out to the plantations and the Cocke family cemetery in the middle of a cow pasture. (We had to pick up the key from a catfish farm; who knew you could farm catfish?) We wandered through the graves and then speculated on where the house stood – by the huge oaks, we expect – as we drove back out of the pasture to lock the gate again.

Lucy Skipwith's Deed

But the best part of the day came in one of those deed books. I scanned the index and saw the names – “Crecy” and “Skipwith.” My breath caught. This was it. . . Archie Creecy and Lucy Skipwith – descendants of people from the Virginia plantation – bought land here in Alabama. I felt like I’d just found gold . . . and I had. I really had.

Serendipity indeed.

*Okay, my second favorite – my REAL favorite is “sleep,” but that’s another post.