Coincidences occur all the time and in most cases they probably mean nothing at all. They can be entertaining, though, and it’s always tempting to speculate whether some guiding influence is shaping our ends, possibly for his or her own amusement.

Anyway, they amuse me, and there are some mildly interesting ones – and one fairly staggering one – in my family background. I might write about them all sometime, but for now, here’s one that cropped up recently.

While researching the ancestry of my first-cousin-twice-removed Ida Coffin Duncan I found out that her grandfather, Kenneth Douglas Coffin, had had a son, also called Kenneth Douglas. (That’s not the coincidence. Duplicate family names are occasionally coincidental but as a rule they’re just annoying evidence of lack of imagination, or a transparent attempt to confuse the perpetrators’ unfortunate descendants as they try to piece together their ancestry. When I used to work in a bookshop, I always thought it would have been a much nicer job without the customers. Similarly doing genealogical research would be so much more enjoyable if it wasn’t for all the ancestors. However.)

Kenneth Douglas Coffin junior (b. 1862) moved to Australia and settled in Mackay, Queensland. His son Carl was born there in 1895 (and was killed, 20 years later, at Gallipoli). By 1905, the family had moved to Rockhampton, where Kenneth worked as a bank clerk. They lived at 106 Archer Street.

Just round the corner, in Talford Street, were the Richardson family. The youngest, Maul, was about seven years older than Carl. No doubt the Richardsons and the Coffins passed each other on the street. They may even have known each other.

In about 1912, some of the Richardsons, including Maul, migrated to England. A few years later, Maul met and married a woman called Edith Duncan. She was the niece of Thomas J Duncan of Dublin, who in the 1880s had married Eliza M Coffin, Kenneth’s sister.

OK, so that’s the coincidence. Not a particularly big one. In fact, is it a coincidence at all? It is possible that the Richardsons and the Coffins did in fact know each other in Rockhampton, and that the introduction of Maul to Edith was in some way a result of that. There’s no family story to suggest this, but it’s possible. But I would be more surprised if Maul and Edith’s meeting turned out not to be a coincidence than I am by the coincidence itself. I’m sure that says something about the nature of coincidence – or about our attitude towards it – but I’m buggered if I know what.

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