Family history and serendipity go together. Talk to any genealogist or family historian and you’ll hear stories of amazing finds – cousins who email with just the information needed, family bibles that turn up in unusual places, the headstone you find in the cemetery when you’ve almost given up searching. I’ve had my fair share of serendipitous moments, but today I’ll share just one: revisiting the house that William H. Kelsey built.
As a young girl I visited the house my great grandfather, William Henry Kelsey built. Located next to the railroad tracks in Springville, Utah, I remember feeling awestruck at the beautiful gingerbread style trim on the exterior. His daughter, Effie, wrote of her parents: William H Kelsey and Selina Beddoes Kelsey:
It was an era of good times. After they had been married for seven years, in 1889, Father began building their new home on 3rd south and 4th west. It was late Victorian at its fanciest. The family moved in the back part while the front was being finished. By 1891, all was finished except the parlor. Preal was born May 31, 1891 with beautiful new furniture, ornate baby carriage and crib for her.
William died fairly young in 1918 at the age of sixty-one. His wife, Selina, continued to live in the house almost until her death in 1962 at the age of ninety-seven. Her son Edward, my grandfather, sent two of his three daughters to live with Grandma Selina during their teens, during the depression years. They told of Grandma Selina feeding the hobos that rode the trains. Because the train tracks were next to the Kelsey house, it became known as a place that a man could get a hot meal.
William and Selina’s daughter, Effie, lived in the home after her mother passed on and we would visit her occasionally. She liked to listen to me play the piano in the parlor and I loved poking around the old house filled with so many interesting things.
Aunt Effie passed away when I was fourteen. At her funeral, the family gathered one last time and took pictures in several of the rooms before the house sold out of the family. My mother (pictured above with my father and their oldest granddaughter) helped sort through the belongings and brought home some of Aunt Effie’s treasures. I inherited her hand painted trunk and assorted trinkets. I love my trunk and my trinkets. They connect me to another generation and to the Kelsey house. My brother and sister-in-law (pictured below) inherited the piano that now has a place in their parlor.
Years passed. I married, had a family of my own, and lived far away from Springville. After seventeen years in Seattle, we decided to move to Utah. My parents came to visit and my mother expressed a desire to drive to Springville to see the Kelsey home: her grandparents home, the home where her father was raised. From the sidewalk we admired the red brick house, now over one hundred years old and took pictures, but didn’t dare knock on the door.
My in-laws moved to Springville, and often as we drove to their home, I’d glance over and catch glimpses of the Kelsey home, wondering if I’d ever see the interior again. Fast forward a few more years and my husband and I were chatting with old friends from Seattle at a wedding reception. Our friend mentioned she now lived in Springville. I told her of my Kelsey connection and she exclaimed, “The Kelsey home? That is right down the street from us!” Turns out she knew the family who now lives there and gave me their contact information. I emailed the mother and she invited us to come by anytime. I took my family and we marveled at the restoration she had done inside.
She had retained some of the original hardware, doors, and trim, but had put new life into it’s old bones with her Scandinavian flair. The house is now on the list of historic places in Springville.
When I told my mother about our discovery, she also wanted to visit, so the next time she came to Utah, we called and were welcomed again. Our hostess enjoyed hearing my mother talk of the history of the home she had visited from 1930 on. We traipsed the grounds, went in the grainery, and had a wonderful visit.
Family history serendipity had struck again! Not only was I able to give my mother the opportunity to revisit her grandparents home, I passed on a connection to my own children.
What serendipitous experiences have you had? Take a few minutes and record them – for yourself and for your posterity.
To learn more about how to discover your house history, check out this post at Genealogy Gems.
Best of luck in your family history endeavors!