A Christmas Miracle

I’ve been sitting on this story for more than a month because it involves my husband’s Christmas present. Now that Christmas is merely days away, I just can’t wait any longer! I hope my husband, who is an automotive genius but a complete computer novice, won’t read it and spoil his own surprise. Dennis, if you are reading this, turn off the computer NOW!

OK, I think we’re safe.

About a month ago a gentleman who had just purchased an antique photo album on eBay contacted me via an Ancestry.com message. There were almost 50 photos in the album, all identified as Shivelys. Being a genealogist himself, he looked up the names on Ancestry, found my Shively tree and contacted me to let me know he was willing to re-sell it to me. My first reaction was, “Yeah, right. This has to be a scam.” But he sent me some scans of the photos, and I was gobsmacked. Not only did all the names fit in my tree, but one of the photos was hanging on my living room wall!

My husband had thought this was a portrait of his great-grandfather, but these photos revealed it’s actually his great-great-grandfather Peter Shively.

This discovery assuaged all doubt about the authenticity of the album and I promptly bought it from the gentleman. He sent it to my work address (see how sneaky I am?), and it arrived in perfect condition. It’s a small album and the front flyleaf is inscribed to Naomi Shively (one of Peter’s daughters) with the date 1860!

There was also a photo of Peter’s father, Michael Shively, Dennis’s third-great-grandfather, who was born in 1807.

Now if this was the end of the story, that would already be miraculous enough. But it doesn’t end there. A couple of weeks after I purchased the album but before I’d scanned any of the photos in it, I was contacted (again on Ancestry.com) by a woman who had seen my Shively tree. She was a descendant of one of Peter’s daughters, Adora “Dora” Shively. She had an unidentified photo that she suspected might be from the Shively family and asked if I would take a look at it. I compared it to the photos in the album I had just purchased and was unable to identify it for her. But I did send her this picture of Dora Shively as a child (with mother Martha and sister Olive, Dora is on the left). It was the first photo she had of Dora — needless to say, she was thrilled.

But this story doesn’t end there, either.

A few days later I was contacted AGAIN on Ancestry.com by a woman who had just bought another album on eBay! This album is equal parts Shively and a related family with the surname Millikan (one of the Shively daughters married a Millikan). She wasn’t contacting me to sell the album, just to let me know she had it and could provide scans of the photos in it if I wanted them. This album contained the same photo of Peter Shively that was hanging on my wall as well as a photo of his wife, Susannah. There was another photo of Peter’s father Michael and a lock of his hair. (OK, I know it was common to save locks of hair of the deceased, but it seems a little creepy to me!) A few of the photos were duplicates of ones in the first album, but most were new to me. I offered to buy the album from her, and after considering my offer for a few days, she agreed to sell it. It arrived yesterday.

The first album was all cartes de viste, but this album is made up almost entirely of larger cabinet photos, all in beautiful condition. So now I have two albums containing almost 100 photos of my husband’s relatives!

I’m sure skeptics would say this is all a happy coincidence. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t believe in coincidence. This is a miracle, plain and simple. Aside from the random acts of genealogical kindness (which are also miraculous) that enabled all this to happen, it’s a miracle first that all of these photos were identified. Secondly, its a miracle that both albums have found their way back to the family — and within days of each other!

But there is also a third miracle. Thirty-five years ago, my husband left Indiana with his wife and small children to move to Oklahoma, leaving all of his original family behind. His wife passed away in 2001, his children grew up, and the combination of time, distance and old misunderstandings resulted in little contact with his extended family in Indiana. Now, I don’t pretend to know how this all works — but I do know that while I can’t mend the estrangements in his living family, this Christmas I’ll be able to give this wonderful man the gift of his Indiana ancestors who apparently really wanted to be found! And living or dead, family is family. That’s the real miracle this Christmas.


Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Nancy Shively of Skiatook, OK. Read all her posts at Family Tree University.

17 thoughts on “A Christmas Miracle

  1. Nancy, what a lovely story! How fortuitous! Having family trees up here and there (and in this case ancestry) really does result in connections one would never imagine possible. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  2. Please, please, please send some of those miracles this way.

    BTW I also wanted to let you know that Etsy.com has old photos and even marriage licenses in their vintage section. Some are labeled with names. There are also Civil War era maps and books and vintage postcards. It’s another resource for genealogists.

  3. Coincidence, shmincidence. I don’t believe in it either. I love that your husband’s ancestors have come home to him. He will surely be so touched by this miraculous gift.

    Scrappy Gen

  4. Wow, what I great story! Makes me think I’d better get a tree posted on Ancestry pronto!

    Merry Christmas to you and your husband – I’m sure he’s going to be thrilled!

  5. How exciting! And what a wonderful and priceless Christmas gift. Definitely a miracle for all of that to come together for you. Merry Christmas!

  6. Thanks everyone! I know…I can’t wait to see his face! Alissa- thanks for the Etsy tip. I never would have thought to look there!

  7. That is a wonderful Christmas present. Lucky you! I was wondering what Millikans you have as my husband has that name on his family tree.

  8. Woohoo!! I’d say that was a homerun. I hope your husband is pleased with his Christmas gift. It truly is one of a kind and comes from the heart.

    I’m with Elizabeth – this makes me think maybe I should do a better job of getting a tree up on Ancestry!

  9. Pam-I’m not sure if telling the whole Internet is keeping a secret though!

    Elizabeth and Michelle- Ancestry.com is a great tool but the Internet itself never ceases to amaze me!

  10. I didn’t know gobsmacked was a word mother…..cool story though you ancestry genius! You’ll have to keep letting me know where my family came from!

  11. What an awesome find!! Congratulations! I also have Shivelys in the family. My third great grandmother was Martha Shively born about 1823 in Pendleton County, KY. She was the daughter of John Shively (born about 1797) and married John James Race Feb. 26, 1841. She wouldn’t happen to be of your line would she or have pictures of her? Anyway, your husband will love the present! Merry Christmas!

  12. I had forgotten about those post-mortem locks of hair from the 1800″s (and even before?)
    So many families still have them. Is the DNA intact after 100 years or more?
    God’s plan still working? ( And our technology just catching up.)
    I am new to genealogy. about one year, now. and though I live in Califor nia, most of my tree is based in Ohio, N. Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Germany.
    Haven’t run across any Shivleys, yet, though.

  13. Sherri,
    So far I haven’t linked up with any of the KY Shivelys. The farthest back I’ve gotten is Michael Shively (1807-1900) and he was originally from WV.

    I wondered about the DNA myself. Or would the results be any different anyway from my husband’s DNA (not that I’ve talked him into that yet!) since Michael is a direct male line to him? I’ll have to find someone to ask….

  14. Congrats on the new job. Impressive story of coincidence – it all came together in such an amazing way. We all need more coincidences from Ancestry and E-bay! He should be astounded.

  15. I know this is very late to comment on this blog (I just found it and have been reading all of them), I just wanted to say that a friend of mine taught me the real word for a coincidence: a “Godincidence.” I’d say this is one of them. Also, this has inspired me to make an Ancestry.com tree. I never have before, because it seemed very complicated, but I’m going to try now!

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