It’s a question hard-wired into a fiction writer’s brain. And it’s one of the reasons I got hooked on family history research. What if my four times great grandfather had decided he liked England just fine, thank you very much. and decided to stay put. He would never have met my four times great-grandmother who was already across the vast sea. There would be no me. What if my three times great-grandmother had perished in the difficult birth of her first son, and suppose she’d listened to the advise of her doctor and had no more children. I wouldn’t be here. Suppose my twice great-grandfather had left his place of work five minutes later? He wouldn’t have picked up the package that lovely young lady dropped and she would not eventually have become his wife and–I wouldn’t be here.
There are thousands of moments of intersection in each person’s ancestry, some created from intentional decisions, some by happenstance, some literally accidental and others by matters of timing. When contemplating this cavalcade of juncture-moments most people have one of two reactions. Some take it as proof positive they were meant to be and that the universe conspired to bring them to right where they are. It’s confirmation, affirmation. Others tend toward the HOLY SCHNIKIES, BATMAN! school of thought, perhaps punctuated with a bit of hyperventilation, as they realize how truly tenuous their coming to selfhood was for every inch of the way down the long corridors of their family descent.