Jump Off a Train and Determine the Future

The announcement of Allen and Cora Siver’s 50th anniversary, published in the February 27, 1941 issue of the Mount Vernon Hawkeye-Record

The creation of a human being is a very simple equation, right?

Man + Woman (+ maybe some Barry White music) = Baby

It seems pretty straight forward, but in reality, a person’s existence is dependent on so many variables. Every time I do research on my family tree, those variables become more and more apparent.

I absolutely love doing family tree research. I have some branches that go all the way back to the 1600’s, and my tree includes some intriguing facts (or random trivia, depending on how you look at it). I have someone on my family tree who was related to Daniel Boone, and someone else who was a neighbor to Abraham Lincoln’s grandparents. But to me, one of the most fascinating stories is about my great-great-grandpa.

Sometime around 1883 or 1884, a teenage Allen Siver boarded a westbound train in Schenectady, New York. Eventually, the train came to the quiet town of Mechanicsville, Iowa. As it slowed down west of town, Allen jumped off at a farm and asked for work. Apparently, hopping off a train and asking for a job was good strategy back in those days, because they took him on as a hired hand. In 1891, he married Cora Manly, a 19-year-old woman with Ohio roots on both sides of her family. To this marriage were born three sons, including my great-grandpa Otis, a man whose last eight years on earth coincided with my first eight. Allen passed away in 1964 at the age of 97; Cora followed in 1967 at the age of 95.

So, to sum up: by choosing to hop off a train in little ‘ol Mechanicsville, Allen Siver not only got a job, but also a marriage that lasted almost 73 years. Was it worth it for him to jump off the train? I’d definitely say yes.

This begs the question: what if he had jumped off somewhere else? What if he had jumped off earlier (in Illinois) or later (in Nebraska)? What if he had jumped off just a few short minutes later in Lisbon, Iowa? Would he have still met Cora? If he jumped off somewhere else and didn’t meet Cora, then my great-grandpa Otis and his two brothers would have never existed (if you’re imagining the scenes where Marty and his siblings disappear from the photo in Back to the Future, you’re not alone).

Now of course, if Allen didn’t meet Cora and my great-grandpa Otis was never born, that obviously erases subsequent levels of the family tree, including yours truly. It’s a freaky thought. Think of all the ancestors on your family tree. If just ONE of them had done something differently, you might not be here today. If someone on your tree chose bachelorhood over marriage, or if someone chose a different college to attend, or if someone had not survived a battle during the war, you wouldn’t be here.

In a weird and wild kinda way, I’m here today because a guy jumped off a train in the 1880’s.

It’s easy to take your existence for granted. It’s also easy to see yourself as just another number, just another face in the crowd. But when you consider the countless scenarios that could have canceled out your potential existence, you feel a little more special about who you are and why you’re here. Whether you think it’s fate or destiny or just a random outcome, it’s an effective way to be thankful for your life.



  1. […] in a foxhole beside my Grandpa Becker in Nazi Germany, hoping and praying this damn war ends soon. I’m jumping off a train in 1880s Iowa with my great-great-grandpa Allen Siver, hoping to find work at the first farm I come […]

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