There are no coincidences - photo of a woman holding stardust like magic
I'm holding one of the stockyard images from the Alice Petersen collection, an uncanny collection that was handed to me after I prayed for help.
I’m holding one of the stockyard images from the Alice Petersen collection

Uncanny, I think, when the archivist hands me the old photographs. But then again, in my line of work doing family history, I have come to believe that perhaps there are no coincidences.

On the table before me is a jackpot of images related to the Ogden Stockyards. These 60-year-old albums illuminate exactly what I need to see. The Weber State University Special Collections Director says, “These literally just came in. They are so new they haven’t even been indexed yet. I knew you would be excited.” When I ask their origin she says, “The estate of Alice Petersen just donated them.” Alice Petersen died in 2015, but the collection arrives exactly when I need them to help tell the stockyard story.

This experience was happenstance following an intense prayer I had said a few days earlier: “If there are people’s stories that should be told right now, then please help them come my way. I could use some help in this work.”  My prayer came from a place of feeling that the project was important, and I wanted to do it justice.

Other perfectly good explanations?

To be clear, I do believe there are coincidences in life, random accidents that don’t have a deeper meaning.  As a thinking person, I must consider that good fortune like this could result from possibilities wholly unrelated to my prayer. As in:

  • Mere coincidence or dumb luck
  • Hard work paying off
  • The power of paying attention

I cannot argue that sometimes we search for (and find) connections where none may exist. I have a healthy respect for the above three points.  Perhaps to a fault, because I have a hard time asking for help. Surely God has more important concerns than my trivialities. But when the archivist handed me those photos, it felt like something other-worldly going on.

As a person of faith, I worry that I would risk ingratitude (and ticking off cosmic forces) if I did not acknowledge this.

I had said the words out loud in a prayer asking for help, and days later a whole batch of incredibly useful photos fell from the sky and onto my desk.

Maybe it is really is true that there are no coincidences.

Sheri Dew said, “I think there is more help available to us than we realize”

This experiment with prayer followed something Sheri Dew told us at RootsTech. She believes that departed loved ones are ready and able to help us.

“Man, I think that is so real…I think there is more help available to us than we realize, and we just need to ask. Ask. Have faith. Believe. And sometimes, I’m asking for specific people to come…”

Here is the video clip:

Her words touch me. So I tried it and asked for help. I wanted people who had passed on to be properly honored, and I was putting my heart into this work.

I also knew I need some help.

Do the Ancestors want to be known?

Here is a second idea. Is it possible that ancestors want to be known to us? Is this one reason that religious traditions around the world have ceremonies and rites for the dead?

The more I do the work of telling family stories, the more I feel the answer is “yes,” our ancestors want to be remembered.

I also believe that there are important reasons for it. Stories bind generations and help children understand that they are part of something greater than themselves. Stories are how we pass our values to the next generation. There is great power in story.

Related: 5 secrets of happy parenting

Stories are also the only way we will be remembered. I now believe that the ancestors do want to be remembered, and that perhaps there are no coincidences in the way they get our attention.

Related: Coco movie reminds us what is truly important – family – past, present and future

Her story awakens me at 3 am – coincidence?

A few days after the photo incident was a Saturday and I was on the phone with my brother. We get talking about our recent genealogy finds, and he mentioned that he came across an intriguing story. One of our ancestral relatives adopted a Native American baby. He told me that brief and somewhat random tidbit, and then our conversation turned to other topics.

That night, at around 3 a.m., I woke up and couldn’t sleep. This is unusual for me so rather than lying there, I got out of bed. In the wee hours, I cleared paperwork from my desk and perused the winter edition of the Utah Genealogical Society newsletter, piled there from January. Skim, skim, skim.

Then an article caught my eye, “Adoption of Indian Children by Mormon Pioneers, by Joan E. Healey, AG.” I read it and find it to be an interesting overview, although nothing specific jumped out at me. Since it related to my brother’s comment, though, I email it to him with a quick note that it reminded me of our conversation from the day before.

Family of Deborah Lamoreaux Leithead, husband James Leithead, and their children including Nellie (Waddie) on the right. Nellie's story came to me in a most uncanny way. There are no coincidences in this story.
Family of Deborah Lamoreaux Leithead, husband James Leithead, and their children including adopted Nellie (Waddie) on the right

A few hours later, he emailed me back and said, “Very interesting, Rhonda.  Look at the last full paragraph on page two. The Indian girl, Waddie, is the exact girl I was reading about and mentioned to you.”

The hairs on my arm prickled, as though I was awakened at 3 a.m. to find this story. It felt like she wanted to be known, that the story wanted to be told.

Read the adoption story I learned by clicking here. 

It turned out that this story intertwined with another uncanny discovery by my brother. Waddie (renamed Nellie) was ultimately adopted by our ancestor’s sister. This was a family line that my brother had come to love recently. He began tracking it down, and was delighted to discover that our ancestor hailed from a part of Canada where he does a lot of business. So on a recent trip, he located a park associated with our ancestors. When he went there, he found a stone monument erected to honor our sixth great-grandfather and the community he founded. In the church next door, the ladies treated my brother, a direct descendant, like a celebrity.

The really weird part? My brother had been staying on our ancestor’s homeland for years

Want to know the really weird part? That park, the church, and the monument were in the very same block where my brother always stays when he is in town. His hotel was right there. He has been staying on ancestral land for years.

L'Amoraux obelisk near Toronto, Ontario Canada. It is uncanny that my brother Matthew has been staying on this land for years when he visits Canada. There are no coincidences here.
L’Amoraux obelisk near Toronto, Ontario Canada

Is it possible we feel drawn—for reasons we do not understand—to the power of places where our families once lived? I get that pin-prickly feeling whenever I think of it.

Related: An Adoption Story  Touches my Heart 170 Years Later

Related article: Finding forgotten voices in the Church History Library

This whole rabbit trail started with a prayer for help. Almost immediately, these coincidences showed up and blew me away.

As Sheri Dew put it, “Man, I think that is so real.”

If you liked this article, get my all-time favorite questions everyone should ask. Click here for the free printable.

Rhonda Lauritzen, author of this article on "uncanny" details followed by prayer. Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life, where we tell personal and family stories that inspire. (Let us help you tell yours!) Rhonda lives to hear and tell about people’s lives, especially the uncanny moments.

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