As librarians at the State Library, we perform research into subjects covering the full range of human endeavour as part of our professional duties. Through the research process we follow established research techniques and methodologies utilising structured information retrieval systems and a large range of reference sources.
While serendipity is not the recommended form of the research process, it does have its place and at times it has its unexpected benefits.

Recently a lucky serendipitous find occurred while I was gathering together information about a possible passenger list for a voyage of the ship, S.S. Mariposa which departed from Honolulu, Hawaii and arrived at San Francisco in September 1938. The enquirer also wanted a photograph of the ship taken around the time that his father took the voyage mentioned above.
In the early stages of the research process I consulted books in the ‘America’ section of the Library’s Genealogy Centre open access shelves. I found useful contextual information about American passenger lists that were of interest and had planned to move to a computer to check and compile a list of online databases that would be of interest.
As for the photograph of the ship, I had a mental list of sources to check or refer to but wasn’t feeling confident of finding a photograph of this American ship for the time of interest.
Before moving off I thought to browse further through the section of the shelves. A book’s spine title took my eye….‘Ships of our ancestors’. I hadn’t noticed this American publication before so I slid the book off the shelf, opened the pages at ‘M’ and there it was, a good quality image with the caption, ‘S.S. Mariposa, 1931 Oceanic Steamship Co. Peabody Museum of Salem.’

mariposaAnuta, Michael J. Ships of our ancestors (1983) p. 189

Job done! Thank you serendipity Gods!

The open access book shelves in the Genealogy Centre are classified by geographical area rather than Dewey subject order. By doing this as a self-help aid, we can bring like sources together by place, therefore, I was able to browse a section of the shelves and find a range of sources that were relevant to my research task. If you are in the Centre, remember to browse the book shelves for geographical areas of interest to you such as Scotland, Ireland, England, individual English counties, South Africa, Italy, Netherlands and so on.
Set some time aside to browse, you never know what you might find.


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