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Oh to be in England…

There’s no other way to describe today but Serendipity Saturday.

St. Dunstan Church, Stepney, England

Now, the dictionary definition of serendipity is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this.”1

Bleah. I much prefer the way that Ancestry Insider uses the term:

“It is as though our ancestors want to be found. Uncanny coincidence. Olympian luck. Phenomenal fate. Tremendous intuition. Remarkable miracle. We call It, “Serendipity in Genealogy.”2

One of the reasons I call this Serendipity Saturday is the fact that my day started out with Ancestry Insider‘s blog post yesterday. “Serendipity at the BYU Conference” told the story of a presenter whose first slide was a page from a 200-page book about servants in Derby, England. And one of the names on that page was an ancestral name of one of the attendees.3

See? Serendipity. That’s cool.

A little later, I got around to checking Facebook and saw that Midge Frazel had left a response to my comment about my blog post from yesterday. One of the words in “B is for borg” was backside,4 and Midge noted: “I can’t believe it! I was just going to ask you about backside. It looked like a location. Wow.”

More serendipity, and that’s really cool.

But there is nothing quite as serendipitous, or quite as cool, as the way my head started to spin when I was reading a comment a reader left on an earlier blog post, “Terms of use: Mocavo.” It was from a reader who said he wished that search engine did a better job of crawling quality personal genealogy sites, and he gave, as an example, his own site,

I certainly agree with Jim, and was about to give him a couple of other examples that I thought proved his case. And then it hit me.

Wait a minute. Pettypool? PETTYPOOL?

C’mon now. That’s not exactly the world’s most common surname. And it’s one of my ancestral surnames. Pettypool! And a website —! Could it be…?

Sure enough, James Furman Poole of South Carolina turns out to be a sixth cousin twice removed, and he’s the driving force technically behind a terrific website presenting the research behind our common Pettypool ancestors. He is, he says, “the site owner, programmer, administrator, and Senior ‘go-fer’” for the site, and the author of the South Carolina/Laurens County family portion.

He’s teamed with another sixth-cousin-twice-removed Dr. Carolyn Skinner Hartsough, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of a journal article on our common Pettypool family.5 The three of us share Seth and Martha (–M?–) Pettypool of Prince George, Brunswick, Lunenburg and Halifax Counties, Virginia, as ancestors: Jim and Carolyn through their son William, me through their son John.

Carolyn got into family history research when her son was born to try to trace the origins of a rare nonfatal hereditary disorder. She never found where the disorder first appeared in her family, but, she says, she “sure got interested in genealogy” and ended up amassing 18 three-inch-thick binders of documentary materials on our Pettypools. She also administers the Pettypool One-Name Study in the Guild of One Name Studies.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, has found our original English immigrant. Check out the image here. It’s a baptismal record for 20 October 1630 at St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, England. It reads: “William sonne of Samuell Petipoole of Ratcliffe shoemaker & Alice et ux.”6

Now nobody’s going to rush into any the-name’s-the-same thing here. But Pettypool — in all its spelling variations — is an exceedingly rare surname both in 17th century England and in colonial America. And combining a reasonably exhaustive search of both English and American records with the fact that the baptized William disappears from the English records right at the time our William appears in American records certainly supports an inference that they are one and the same man.

And that one-and-the-same William would be — lemme see here — my 9th great grandfather and Samuel and Alice my 10th great grandparents:

     • grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell (1898 TX – 1970 VA) m. Opal Robertson
     • great grandfather Martin Gilbert Cottrell (1855 TX – 1946 TX) m. Martha Johnson
     • 2nd great grandmother Martha Louisa Baker (1832 NC – 1913 TX) m. G.W. Cottrell
     • 3rd great grandmother Elizabeth Buchanan (1797 NC – 1854 TX?) m. Martin Baker
     • 4th great grandmother Elizabeth Jones (1774 VA – 1861 NC) m. William Buchanan
     • 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Pettypool (1750 VA – 1818 NC) m. John Jones
     • 6th great grandfather John Pettypool (1725 VA – 1803 NC) m. Sarah Sanford
     • 7th great grandfather Seth Pettypool (c 1700 – c1773 VA) m. Martha (-M?-)
     • 8th great grandfather William Pettypool (c1660 – c1726 VA) m. Elizabeth (-M?-)
     • 9th great grandfather William Pettypool (1630 England – 1668) m. Ann Smith
     • 10th great grandfather Samuel Pettypool m. Alice Jackson

As we well-educated serious genealogists might say — Hot damn!

We’ve got candidates for a colonial-era immigrant ancestor in a couple of my mother’s other lines, but this is the very first of my maternal lines where everything comes together: a credible candidate for the immigrant ancestor, with identification of that immigrant-candidate’s place of origin and parents.

These aren’t fancy folks, by any means. William’s baptismal record identifies his father as a shoemaker. His own records make it clear he and his wife Ann both were indentured servants, not to mention “persons of scandalous or dangerous behavior…”7

But you know what? They’re mine.

Sigh… Even more serendipity. And that’s sooooooooo cool.


Image: St. Dunstan’s, by Gordon Joly, via Creative Commons

  1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 10 Aug 2012), “serendipity.”
  2. See, e.g., Ancestry Insider, “Serendipity in Embroidery,” posted 22 Jun 2012, Ancestry Insider ( : accessed 11 Aug 2012).
  3. Ancestry Insider,“ Serendipity at the BYU Conference,” posted 10 Aug 2012, Ancestry Insider ( : accessed 11 Aug 2012).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “B is for borg,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 10 Aug 2012 ( : accessed 11 Aug 2012).
  5. Carolyn S. Hartsough, “The William Pettypool Family of Southside Virginia: Lineage Reconstruction Based on Current Review of Evdence,” The Virginia Genealogist, 47 (Jan-Mar 2003):57-75 and 47 (Apr-Jun 2003): 139-146.
  6. St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, baptismal register, October 1630, “London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812,” entry for William Petipoole, 20 Oct 1630; database and digital images, ( accessed 10 Aug 2012).
  7. York County, Virginia, Deeds, Orders, Wills, 3:127 (26 August 1661), cited in Hartsough, “The William Pettypool Family of Southside Virginia: Lineage Reconstruction Based on Current Review of Evdence.”
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