A serendipitous reunion

Ruth Evelyn Douglass age 8 monthsOne fall weekend in 2008 my wife, Karen, and I were visiting her parents at their home on Long Island. After dinner one evening, my mother-in-law asked if I might like to see a collection of journals kept by her maternal grandfather, Glenn Welmer Douglass (1884–1968), a Methodist minister from New England.

“Of course!” I said.

Up from the basement came a box and a bag containing a dozen or more books of various shapes and sizes, each volume marked on the cover or spine with a single year. The earliest volume was from 1909, the latest from 1966. My mother-in-law said her grandfather had kept a daily journal from about the age of twenty until his death. Her brother had the rest of the collection.

I thumbed through the journals; almost every entry contained meticulous detail: “arose 6:05; dressed 6:08…” I knew from prior research that for a period of time in the early 1900s, Glenn and his wife, Helen Evelyn Southworth (1880–1960), lived in Danville, Vermont, a mid-sized town of about 1,500 people in Caledonia County. A number of my own ancestors and relatives were born or lived in Caledonia County throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Danville in particular is an interest of mine as that is where many of my Woods ancestors and relatives are buried, in Danville Green Cemetery.

While I had wondered before if any of my ancestors or relatives might have known my wife’s ancestors during the period they lived in Danville, I hadn’t seriously pursued the question. With the treasure trove of information before me, I thought I might start, but without any of my genealogical notes at hand, the only relatives I knew for sure lived in Danville during the same period as the Douglass family were my great-great-uncle Seth Woods (1863–1926) and his wife Jennie (Hatch) Woods (1877–1951).

Before trying to track down any connections between my family and my wife’s, having researched some of her genealogy in the past, I decided to see what was recorded on days I knew significant events had taken place, such as births of children, like my wife’s grandmother, Ruth Evelyn Douglass (1909–1976), who was born 20 September 1909. (Click on the images to expand them.)

Glenn Welmer Douglass diary, 20 September 1909Glenn Welmer Douglass diary, 20 September 1909 continued








For that date, I read:

A memorable day this morning at 2:40 our first daughter was born. We decided to call her Ruth Evelyn. Doctor went home about 4 o’clock. In the morning I telephoned to Mr. Whitcomb to let Mother Southworth and Father Douglass know the news. Jennie Woods came to help with the housework until Mother Southworth should arrive. Mother came on the 4:45 train. Mrs. Barnes arrived on the 9:00 train from Morrisville. A meeting was appointed for the Sunday School Board with Mrs. Hatch. I went, but nobody arrived. At 7:30 I came home.

What a serendipitous entry! I could hardly believe it.

My wife and I first met in Boston about 2001; I was born in Texas and raised in Northwestern Vermont along Lake Champlain, and she was born and raised on Long Island. Before we married, Karen had never been to Vermont and here I was reading how, 92 years before we met, a member of my family was present the day my wife’s grandmother was born! Such is the wonder and enjoyment of family history.

About Ryan Woods

Engaged in museum and library management for more than a decade, Ryan Woods oversees the day-to-day operations of NEHGS and is responsible for the strategic implementation of technology and content services. Since joining NEHGS in 2007, he has held successive roles developing education programs, supervising the research library, and leading business and technology initiatives, including the creation of the Society’s flagship website, AmericanAncestors.org. Prior to arriving at NEHGS, Ryan served in several key capacities at the Mary Baker Eddy Library and at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where he was recognized by members of Congress and the Archivist of the United States with a special commendation for outstanding achievement in public service. A licensed educator and author of educational and genealogical articles, he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, education, and non-profit program management from Boston University. In addition to his work at NEHGS, Ryan serves on several boards of historical and educational institutions and is a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem.

7 thoughts on “A serendipitous reunion

  1. That is a wonderful story! Discoveries like that propel me forward in genealogical research. Difficulties like dead ends, cranky microfilm readers, burned church records, etc.
    shrink in the face of such a great find. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Dear Ryan~~~And people think that genealogy is a dry subject? I love the story~~~and even more, love the fact that you shared this gem with us. Made my entire afternoon.

  3. I also have relatives from Caledonia county,& connected to the Woods family but I don’t know how. Seems they lived along the River from Waterford, Passumpsic, Barnett, and south. Parks was the name

  4. At a dance, a girl from my high school recognized me (we didn’t know each other) introduced me to her date, saying he was also born in Evanston but had grown up in Virginia… at the next one, he was alone and asked me out…a month later he came to dinner…when my mom heard his mom’s birth name she gasped and dashed for a photo album… her 9th birthday picture showed his aunt and his mother! 42 years later we’re still married, thanks to a chance encounter at a dance at Great Lakes Navy Base in 1969. I have that old photo, too.

  5. Fantastic story!!! If only people would care about the past and where they came from.Im sure if everyone started their Family Tree they would get hooked on one of the branches.

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