As family historians we can all agree that coincidences happen. Where we may disagree is whether they are meaningful coincidences or meaningless coincidences. Which you choose will depend on whether you believe in cosmic forces, outside the world of pragmatism, or not. If you are firmly in the “random” camp you can admit it’s odd and move on with out any further engagement. But,what if you don’t move on? What if you stop and dig a little deeper? Personally? I flip flop! I prefer to accept the random theory but then something weird happens and I’m another step closer to admitting that meaningful coincidences exist whether I flip flop or not!
What Is A Meaningful Coincidence?
You can’t go past Carl Jung for coming up with definitions of the obvious! He introduced the term, “synchronicity” to explain that coincidences were meaningful if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related” It appears that a meaningful coincidence is in the eye of the beholder!
My Personal Meaningful Coincidence
I have to be honest from the outset and admit that my personal “meaningful coincidence” remains just that! In spite of my best efforts and requests from Australia to Texas I have not found my missing link. This post is where I get to open up the possibility of cosmic forces and take the opportunity to nudge the universe into a positive response. Alternatively, with my pragmatic hat on, I’m hoping that by organizing my research, in order to share it with you, the missing link will become obvious!
Pragmatics v Coincidence
I’ve long since held the belief that I have an undiagnosed split personality! I’m constantly arguing with myself! For example I’m drawn to a dress style labeled “bohemian” but I wear “classic” . I prefer a decor that looks ” lived in” but I like uncluttered benches and loads of storage so everything has a place! I would love to be part of the “Home & Garden” fraternity yet I live on a boat! (Living with myself is not easy!) This post is an opportunity to realign my chakra’s and find a pragmatic connection to my meaningful coincidence.
Finding My Visual Coincidence
I knew that the occupations noted in various census were often repeated in two or more generations as well as within family members. This, of course is pragmatic reality rather than a meaningful coincidence. Fathers hand on their skills and employment contacts to their sons and girls become “domestics”. In my family tree it happened to be watchmakers. Three generations of them at least. The fact that each family had “generational watchmakers” could be explained by the abundance, through necessity, of watches in use in the 1800’s. As you can see I am very good at arguing with myself!
However, this sort of information, whilst interesting, makes rather dry reading. In 1911 an American newspaper editor, Arthur Brisbane, wrote “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words” but my meager collection only went back as far as my grandfather so an online search was my only option. Bingo, a “meaningful coincidence” fell into my lap! After typing in “watchmaker adcock norfolk images” I was rewarded with:
Ernest Adcock lived in Watton and my searches on Ancestry uncovered “generational watchmakers” Making the assumption that the two families have to be connected was bolstered by the fact that both families were separated by only 21 miles. A distance that could easily be covered by a horse drawn vehicle. I also reasoned that larger families would have shared many family gatherings. (Proof in point, it’s whee I met my husband!) Having been assured by many experienced ancestry researchers that cousins marrying cousins are a well known source of confusion on many family trees I reasoned that all I had to do was find the missing couple!
Coincidences In The Real World
To move from my original theory that there has to be a connection because… I put together two separate family trees that highlighted the watchmakers in the two separate families. There was no bolt of lightening in the form of intermarriage, adopted children or kissing cousins but I did feel a sense of achievement.
The Criminal Case Of Exaggerated Coincidences
A downside of not accepting the concept of coincidences is that it could lead to conclusions that are based on shaky foundations. This link explores the concept of “exaggerated coincidences” which led to a prison sentence! Use the link to find out what happened to one man who was caught in the web of exaggerated coincidences, or was he?
Luckily for me they only consequence of my theory that there must be a connection between the two families, is that I have given up hours (and hours) of time trying to find the missing link. I have now decided to pass the problem over by writing this post! Consider the gauntlet thrown and cosmic forces nudged!
Do You Have A Meaningful Coincidence?
Professor David Spiegelhalter is so interested in meaningful coincidences that he collects them! If you have a coincidence that you feel is worth sharing then Professor Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University is ready to listen! This is the link to Understanding Uncertainty where your tale will be collated for prosperity! My latest coincidence happened this morning while I was walking the dogs. I was listening to a podcast about the trend towards building cities on the sea (don’t ask!). My daughter has just sent me a link to a TED talk she thought I may be interested in about technology allowing us to build communities on the water. Somehow, I don’t think this is what the Professor had in mind.
Your Coincidence Homework
To prove that my fixation on coincidences is shared by many others I will tempt you to read the novel, THE COINCIDENCE AUTHORITY. It concerns the lives of two people. Thomas Post, an academic who spends his time reducing coincidences to mathematical problems and Azalea, a young girl whose life is darkened by the coincidences of family members dying on the same date every 10 years! The story has an intriguing beginning with a lost three year old Azalea, being asked, “What’s your father’s name”? The reply, as any mother would expect, was “Daddy!”
If you would like to add your experiences with coincidences in your family research please share in the comments.
I love the in-between sense I get of respect for statistical coincidence and the understanding THAT brings of difference places and times, where lots of people were, for example, watchmakers, and where extended families tended to follow a similar path… vs. the more direct search for a clear common factor.
I’m a scientist, and suddenly the common-or-garden phrase “correlation is not causation” pops into mind. Correlation can be spurious, or it can indicate a deeper common cause, as yet unknown. People keep searching. Meantime, we will publish the correlations, I guess (to co-opt your reference to Jung) to establish the synchronicity among the community of researchers – not that I’ve ever thought of it this way before.
So perhaps the coincidental truth of Adcock watchmakers in the same locale – families that lack a direct common ancestor – is just a coincidence. I prefer your appeal to the statistical tendency for families to move a short distance away but to share aptitudes and work, and surely even in those days they would have known of each other, even if they themselves believed it was a coincidence! It would have been something people in the district knew, surely, and would reinforce their identity.
One time I discovered there was another professor called Scobbie at a university I was visiting for a conference. I arranged to meet him for a coffee. I thought it was a hoot! – he asked, “so why did you want to meet?” as if I needed a reason other than the pure coincidence of it.
I’m also interested in the “small world” myth which middle class people experience as they travel around the world on similar holidays to similar places, or where they vaguely know people who both work for some company in some out-of-the-way place … Anyway! sorry to ramble on for so long. I really enjoyed the blog.
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Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I am constantly in a diatribe with myself between logic, statistics and “Yes, but…….!”
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As it happens, the two Adcock families were a bit closer than you mention, as Watton to Thetford is only 14 miles – Google Maps gives it as 21 minutes by car, which is probably how the error originated.
In saying that, I’m not sure why the map doesn’t show the route from Watton to Methwold, which is where the second family lived. That journey is just a mile and a minute longer than to Thetford, but it is still quite a bit closer than the 21 miles originally mentioned.
It’s all in the details, thank you! I almost found myself researching the speed a horse & buggy would travel at before I acknowledged that I was drowning my self in facts rather than concentrating on finding a “5x removed” cousin!!
It’s so good to have a second pair of eyes on one’s research. It’s easy to fall into the trap of making the research “fit” .Thanks of taking the time to look it up and share.