Have you ever thought about how many things needed to happen just right to lead to you sitting here today reading this sentence? It’s almost incomprehensible when you consider it.

Start with your grandparents. However your grandparents met that day, and the way it happened down to the second was imperative to your existence.

Here’s an example. One night in the late 1920s, Muriel (my father’s grandmother) and her friends decided to go out for an evening in Philadelphia. For some reason, they picked a restaurant where 25-year-old Walter Wasseluk occasionally played the banjo to make some extra money. Walter would eventually become my father’s grandfather.

Walter and Muriel, my Dad’s grandparents, in the 1930s.

What if Muriel didn’t pick that restaurant? What if one of her friends decided abruptly that she preferred to stay in? What if Walter banged up his hand a bit during his day job as an amateur boxer (in the 1920s in Philly, yes, cue the Rocky music) and didn’t play with the band that night? 

However your grandparents met is probably just as improbable when you think about it. If they met as kids, their families needed to be living in the same town. If the families lived just one town apart, a mere 10 miles away, your grandparents might never have met. If your grandparents met after immigrating to a new country, finding each other was probably a needle in a haystack.

Those small chances are just for one pair of your grandparents. You have another pair of grandparents who also needed to do everything the way they did to lead to you. Go back further. You have 4 pairs of great-grandparents, 8 pairs of great-great-grandparents, 16 great-great-great, 32 great-great-great-great, 64 great-great-great-great-great, and so on! Thousands of people whose daily life choices needed to be made exactly how they were for your existence to be possible. 

Your existence is so far-fetched and improbable when you look at all the people, decisions, and moments in your family tree. But you’re here, and that’s part of what makes genealogy so remarkable. 

Walter and Muriel later in life, when they were grandparents! 

Jack Palmer has done genealogy research since he was ten years old and loves writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy research stories and advice. He graduated from Duke University in May 2023, majoring in History and Psychology, and is the author of Helen & Frank: A Biography, a biography about his great-grandparents.

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