Genealogy Serendipity … It Happens!

The dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident”, therefore I would think that genealogy serendipity could be defined as “finding genealogical information by accident” … right?

I have read of this happening to others, and through their words could even feel their excitement. Even the happy dancing bit! But seriously this is one of those “it’ll-never-ever-ever-happen-to-me-in-a-million-years” things, which I was cool with, and life goes on. But apparently today was out to prove me wrong. So let me take you through my serendipity moment.

One of the many tasks my job entails is typing up all the new titles on to our work  website ( This is cool, because it means I get to see every new product that gets added on which helps we with advising customer who have queries etc.

Today I was working my way though a pile of new titles that one of my supplier had sent me. They actually send me titles they think would be something we’d like. Some make it online. Some don’t. Anyway one that I came across was a book titled  “A Voyage to Australia: Private Journal of James Bell”. Shipboard diaries aren’t the world best sellers, so I hummed and haared about whether to add this one or not. But it looked interesting so I added it on.

The book is the diary written by James Bell and records life onboard the ‘Plantar’ ship which left London in November 1838 and arrived in South Australia in May 1839. The reason for the almost six-month journey partly due to the captain’s incompetence, together with other misadventures such which included much of the crew being lost, as were some passengers and most of the livestock. A new crew was acquired as well as an extra passenger. But with the drunken brawls and licentious couplings James was horrified, staunch Presbyterian as he was.

And I was flipping through to the back when I found a crew list AND a passenger list … both of which are really unusual in a shipboard diary, but certainly adds to the usefulness of it. Anyway that’s when it happened. My serendipity moment. I saw there in the passenger list … on the bottom line:

ELPHICK, William Kennard and Susanna (nee Elliot)

William and Susanna are Mr Lonetester’s 3x great grandparents. And there they were. In the passenger list. I was blown away. This is a branch that I have some name,  but really haven’t done any real research on them yet. So couldn’t have even told you what ship, or when the Elphick’s arrived. But there they were!!


So of course now I have a copy of the book sitting on my bedside table waiting to be read.

But I did a brief flick through and here’s a some small extracts of a few entries:

25 November 1838 Sunday
Sailed at 5 oclock a.m. from Deptford in the Ship “Planter” Under Capt Beazley … We have on board a number of poor people with their families who, induced by poverty at home and a belief that there is more of this worlds goods to be acquired in the far distant colony of South Australia, have clung to it ad a last hope …

28 December 1838 Friday
Child died this morning of Hydrocephalos, or water in the head; this disorder is very seldom cured, and there was no chance of its being so by our Doctor. It was buried at 4oclock p.m. The passengers seemed a good deal impressed by the scene, & I trust a good many of them took into consideration their own latter end.

23Januaary 1839 Wednesday
My friends will be astonished to hear of a mutiny on the “Plantar”.

26 January Saturday
I was aroused from a light sleep this morning about 1 oclock by all hands being called on deck to put the ship about, she was almost around. … I cannot look back upon the narrow escape we have had from shipwreck, perhaps from death …

29 January 1839 Tuesday
Went ashore at Ro de Janeiro this morning in company with Mr & Mrs Elphick – were rowed by slaves. … I was very much struck with the appearance of the Slaves. All tribes and kinds. They carry immense burdens, and go in gangs of 10 or 12 when engaged in carrying quantities of goods to or from a ship. some of the women who sell fruit in the steets are very gaily dressed, loaded with beads and baubles …

17 February 1839 Sunday
An unfortunate female fell down the main hatchway last evening and broke her leg. She is one of the 16 young women we have on board (though no young). She may be about 40 or so … By her loose conduct among the sailors, and noisy, coarse and disgusting talk, joined to a very unprepossessing personal appearance, she has become obnoxious to almost every one. Her real name is Lizzy Taylor, and it was with a kind of triumph that some heard of her misfortune …

A Voyage to Australia Private Journal of James Bell

So through a whole heap of random happenings, I discovered this book which is not only truly a fascinating as you can tell from above, but also very relevant to my research!!

So genealogy serendipity was doing her thing, and proved that it most certainly can happen to anyone, anytime, and you honestly won’t be expecting it!

If you’re interested in this book, you can find out more about it here =>


6 Responses to “Genealogy Serendipity … It Happens!”

  1. How exciting!
    Now hopefully you have some free time over the weekend for some reading.

    • Alona says:

      Thanks Jackie. Yes it is exciting! But I won’t get a chance to look at it tomorrow as I’m helping out on the Gould Genealogy stand at the City of Adelaide Clipper Ship’s 150th birthday celebrations all day. So maybe Sunday though (cross fingers).

  2. Alex says:

    Hoorah! I love those kinds of stories. What a find! And what a voyage!

  3. Sharn White says:

    I’m doing a happy dance for you Alona. This has to be one if the best serendipitous moments I’ve EVER heard about! And to even have your ancestor mentioned in the diary not just the passenger list…. it makes them and their voyage so real!

  4. Daina says:

    I have had one of these moments as we’ll. while sorting records for the Lithuanian Archives, some correspondence from 1948 had a list of people wanting to migrate to Argentina. On that list was a branch of my family. Because of that I have actually found a living decendent. A one in a million find. Keep happy dancing as if no one is watching!

  5. Judy Webster says:

    How exciting! Shipboard diaries are a real treasure. My grandmother’s sister kept a diary on their voyage to Queensland on the ‘Merkara’ in 1887. I transcribed it and gave a copy to the John Oxley Library, and it is now mentioned in one of the volumes of ‘Log of Logs’ by Ian Nicholson.

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